“Do you ever think about me? I think about you all the time, like when we first meet.” The opening scene of Rose Plays Julie is wistful and dream-like, as the audience watches a younger version of the titular character Rose (Ann Skelly) stare out to sea as she delivers an intense inner monologue, yearning for an alternative, less lonely life with a mother she has never met.
Throughout the film, Rose is fixated on the past and the myriad of possibilities of what could have been, after learning that she was given up for adoption as a baby. This harsh truth results in obsession, which is central to the film’s development, as she seeks to discover the identity of her biological parents. The audience soon learns that Rose is a veterinary science student at university, but her lecture on the ‘euthanisa of animals’ appears to be interrupted by nightmarish, horror-like dreams, which make for disturbing viewing so early on in the film. These flashes are revealed as actual scenes of a woman from a TV show she has been watching. At first the viewer is unsure of Rose’s intentions and whether her obsession may have more sinister intentions, but as the film gradually unfolds, it is clear that Rose Plays Julie is no horror-stalker thriller. Instead, Rose’s continued viewing is for the leading actress Ellen Wise (Orla Brady), who she has discovered is her biological mother. After finding her birth certificate she realises that her name at birth was actually Julie and that her mother signed a no-contact contract when giving her up for adoption. This discovery only intensifies Rose’s sense of abandonment and fixation. As she stalks Ellen from Dublin to London to confront her, the dark reality of the circumstances surrounding her conception pushes Rose to the brink as she seeks to come to terms with both her own identity and her mother’s trauma.
As Rose’s life splits in two, the audience watches her obsession with the past intensify and reality starts to blur with fictitious fantasy as she begins living a new life as ‘Julie.’ “When I think about Julie I picture her like me, but different… different clothes, different accent, different hair.” To Rose, Julie represents an opportunity to discover the “real me”, tying her sense of loneliness and identity crisis to a need to uncover her past. In order to become Julie, Rose creates her own narrative, disguising herself with a short-haired wig as she sets out to untangle her complicated family history.
The second half of the film largely focuses on Rose’s search for her father, which in turn deepens her connection to Julie. The film’s narrative is akin to that of a Greek tragedy, as both Rose and Ellen’s trauma and vulnerability is caused by Rose’s father, whose narcissism and success has made him an omni-potent metaphysical force in both their lives. This man is later revealed as Peter (Adrian Gillen), a celebrity archeologist who runs his own digs in order to “unlock the past.” It is here that Rose, taking inspiration from her mother’s life, quite literally plays Julie, allowing her to confidently infiltrate Peter’s life by pretending to be an actress starring as an archaeologist in a play, in order to gain a better understanding of the kind of man her father is.
The boiling point of Rose’s identity crisis, which is a momentous scene of rage, shocking revelations and violent confrontation, is one of complete and utter suspense. Set against a backdrop of grey Irish skies and dark and rich hues of green countryside, combined with Stephen McKeon’s ominous score, only further highlights Rose’s isolation. The audience watches on with a sense of foreboding, which is compounded by the film’s lingering and measured camerawork, moving at such a glacial pace at times it feels as if each character’s emotions and inner-turmoils are almost suspended in mid-air. These soft focus shots are then sharply contrasted with gruesome imagery of dissected animals and carcasses which appears as a theme throughout, a likely reference to Carol J. Adam’s 1990 critical feminist theory of ‘the sexual politics of meat’, in which male dominance is associated with violence against animals and women. Thus, the film uses setting and symbolism to explore dark subject matters of gendered violence and trauma with great depth and sensitivity.
However Rose Plays Julie is ultimately a film about women, mothers and daughters. The film’s conclusion is not dissimilar to other female revenge thrillers that have become so popular in the post-MeToo era of cinema, yet at its heart, Rose Plays Julie is a film about a young woman who finds her own strength and sense of belonging in the midst of great trauma.
Rose Plays Julie is out in UK cinemas now
by Eleanor Brady
Eleanor (she/her) lives and works in London and enjoys writing and bingeing the period pieces section on Netflix in her spare time. Her favourite films include Vertigo, The Graduate, Pretty In Pink and Amelie.