Rose Plays Julie

Although Dublin veterinary student Rose (Ann Skelly) has had a loving adopted home, when she finally learns the identity of her birth mother in London, she shows up at Ellen’s (Orla Brady) posing as a potential home buyer.  Ellen has many reasons for not wanting to reopen old history, but shares the identity of Rose’s birth father.  To track down Peter (Aidan Gillen, "The Lovers"), “Rose Plays Julie.”

Laura's Review: B

This Irish psychological thriller from writer/directors Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy tells you exactly where it’s headed from its first line of dialogue, but this is one of those films where it is the journey, not the ending, that is satisfying.  With its lush art house production aesthetic, unsettling exploration of identity and double entendre dialogue, “Rose Plays Julie” unfurls with an elegant sense of dread. 

In her dorm room, Rose keeps a photograph of herself standing at the end of a jetty jutting out into the ocean.  Her back is to the camera and we will learn she refused to turn around when her late adoptive mother took the picture.  The name on Rose’s birth certificate was Julie and Rose likes to imagine this woman as she might have been had she remained Julie.  She would be much the same, but different, she tells us, probably sporting short hair.

Rose’s birth mother, Ellen, is an actress, a woman constantly trying on new personalities (and something which allows for a tricky bit of editing early on).  She quickly cottons on to Rose’s charade, the young woman taking an inordinate interest in her sixteen year-old daughter Eva (Sadie Soverall) and Eva’s room while waiting for the estate agent.  Rose pleads no intended harm, asking for a talk and Ellen suggests moving offsite to protect Eva.  Rose is horrified by what she learns, but Ellen gradually adjusts to the idea of having her back in her life.

And so Rose takes on Ellen AND her own persona to confront her birth father, an archeologist who tells her the best part of his job is ‘uncovering past history.’  He takes an interest in this young woman who says she is researching for a part in a play, but it is the type of interest misplaced for a family man…

While the filmmakers have crafted a web of differing identities and familial structures, they also fold in the animal world of Rose’s veterinary school in ways that both comment upon their plot and move it forward.  (Animal lovers should be warned that these scenes can also be disturbing.)  The film’s three leads are all perfectly complementary to the story and each other’s shifting roles.  There is something about Skelly’s restrained performance that is reminiscent of Morfydd Clark’s work in “Saint Maud,” a calm exterior covering an obsessive focus.  Brady projects a type of rebirth with the arrival of the daughter she had wished no contact from, one which suggests a suppressed preordained  role for Julie.  The film is beautifully photographed and its production design is a mix of the modern, like Rose’s school and Ellen’s Dublin hotel, and the ancient, like Peter’s digs and Ellen’s period dramas.  Like so many films, especially horror, before it, Stephen McKeon’s score references the four notes of the 13th century Gregorian chant ‘Dies Irae,’ as well as using the female voice within its orchestra.

Robin's Review: B

Film Movement releases "Rose Plays Julie" to virtual cinemas, digital and VOD on 3/19/2021.