Rose: A Love Story (2020)
Director: Jennifer Sheridan
Screenwriter: Matt Stokoe
Starring: Sophie Rundle, Matt Stokoe, Olive Gray
Crippled by a chronic illness, Rose (Sophie Rundle – ‘Peaky Blinders’) and husband Sam (Matt Stokoe – ‘Jamestown’) live a survivor’s lifestyle in a cabin in the woods of Northern England. Rose, being unable to leave the cabin due to her medical ailments, spends most of her days writing a novel she hopes to eventually get published, whilst Sam heads out into the elements hunting for food and resources to aid their needs. It all goes wrong when Sam’s regular petrol supplier doesn’t make the arranged delivery and we see his underlying anger come to the fore.
In an ominous scene in a dingy, deserted pub, we witness the threat that Sam is so apparently afraid of when he learns that someone knows where he and Rose are hiding out. As the story progresses, the couple encounter a stranger who gets caught in one of Sam’s rodent traps, Amber (Olive Gray – Teen Spirit). They take Amber in and introduce her to their way of life; providing her with shelter and warmth before she encounters an unexpected fate.
Similar to that of Leave No Trace (2018), in which the protagonist must keep his daughter hidden, Rose empowers the strength of unity within a marriage and the lengths one will go to to keep their loved ones safe. The couple’s secrecy is key to their survival, so Sam sees threat in everything, be it the cry of a lost sheep or Amber when she comes along and disturbs the peace.
What comes through, even after we become more aware of the risks that come with Rose’s illness, is the undeniable love the two feel for each other. Sam’s passion and loyalty towards his wife is both inspiring and heartbreaking.
It’s a film that feels beautifully ambiguous for the most part thanks to Matt Stokoe’s chilling original screenplay, the passion oozing from the page and from his performance, his on-screen coupling with real-life partner Sophie Rundle gifting this feature not only a tangible intimacy between the two characters on the screen but the feeling of Rose: A Love Story being a passion project off it.
There are moments in Rose where the absence of its score, which is impressive in its own right, emphasises the suspense, helping us to get completely lost in each of these moments without any risk of distraction. The film is visually stunning too, thanks in no small part to the picturesque backdrop of the English mountainside. In the indoor scenes, a darkness swallows each frame, which helps to emphasise Rose’s condition as well as illustrate just how stripped back their way of life is. The use of bold colours here and elsewhere in the film, from the whites of the snow to the reds of the blood, make the film feel brutal and almost otherworldly, showing that Sam and Rose couldn’t be further away from reality if they tried.
Although it’s not an out-and-out horror film, it controls all its elements in the same way a standout horror film would thanks to Jennifer Sheridan’s intricate detail in her directing. Despite Rose being her debut feature, the film shines with nourishment and care, the quality being up there with some of the best British thrillers seen in the last few years thanks to its captivating pace and delicate handling of its lead characters.
An incredibly powerful film that keeps you guessing all the way through thanks to its eerie style and ambiguous storyline, Rose: A Love Story is not one you’re going to want to miss.