The Movie Waffler BFI London Film Festival 2020 Review - ROSE: A LOVE STORY | The Movie Waffler

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BFI London Film Festival 2020 Review - ROSE: A LOVE STORY

rose a love story review
A couple's secret, secluded life in the woods is disturbed and endangered by outsiders.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jennifer Sheridan

Starring: Sophie Rundle, Matt Stokoe, Nathan McMullen, Olive Gray, Boadicea Ricketts

rose a love story poster


Of all the mythical creatures that populate the horror genre, the vampire has proven the most consistently malleable for storytellers. Vampires can be unambiguously evil, like Christopher Lee's Dracula, or tragic, sympathetic figures like Robert Pattinson's sparkly Twilight vamp. Often they're both, particularly when they're employed to allegorically represent the downtrodden and oppressed, those forced to live outside the norms of polite society (nobody roots against lesbian vampires, no matter how evil their deeds might be). What unites most of these vampires, whether villains or heroes, is their sexual allure. Several filmmakers have seized upon the vampire's bloodlust as a fitting addiction metaphor, ala Abel Ferrara's The Addiction and Michael O'Shea's The Transfiguration. The vampires of such movies generally buck the trend of being sexually attractive, as the effects of their lifestyle take a toll on their physicality, making them creatures to merely be pitied rather than desired.

Jennifer Sheridan's compelling directorial debut, Rose: A Love Story, opts for the addiction allegory, but it also presents us with a vampire who continues the trend of being physically beguiling, even if she doesn't think so herself. Rose (Sophie Rundle) is so self-conscious of her pale complexion that she refuses to make love with the lights on, despite her committed hubby, Sam (Matt Stokoe), constantly affirming his attraction for her.

rose a love story review

Sheridan discards the unnecessary baggage of an origin story for Rose's vampiric condition. When we meet Sam and Rose they've been married for an undefined amount of time, and now live a life secluded away from society deep in a forest in the far North of England. Sam lives off the land, catching rabbits in traps and growing vegetables in his garden. Rose's tastes are a little more difficult to cater for, but the pair have devised a clever way to keep her topped up with a steady diet of blood. Every night, Sam attaches leeches to his legs and allows them to fill themselves up with his blood. Once they're plump with plasma, he mashes them into an icky goulash and serves it up to a hungry Rose.


I've always appreciated movies that take time to establish the world they're set in, no matter how intimate that setting might be. If you go into Rose: A Love Story asking questions of just how you might live a day to day life if your spouse was a bloodsucker, you'll find most of them answered here. Sheridan lays out the minutiae of Sam and Rose's solitary existence to such a degree that by the time their lifestyle becomes threatened by the arrival of an outsider in the movie's second half, we feel like we're fully prepared to retreat from society ourselves, should we ever find ourselves bitten by a vampire and forced to shun daylight.

rose a love story review

Rose: A Love Story is by no means an ironic title. This is a genuinely romantic film, one that presents us with two people whose feelings for one another are tangible and admirable. Sam is completely committed to the sacrifice he's made to live with his wife, but no matter how much he tries to reassure her, Rose is plagued by guilt. Along with addiction, Sheridan employs the vampire myth as an allegory for two people living with a terminal illness, and how such a bond can simultaneously strengthen and strain a relationship.


The strain comes when Sam is forced to head into the nearest town after being ripped off by a young man claiming to work for his regular supplier of petrol and leeches. Returning home after a violent confrontation, Sam becomes plagued by paranoia regarding the local townsfolk happening upon his and Rose's hideaway, and he begins to keep secrets from his wife. Rose, whose entire existence is based around suppressing her violent instincts, is shocked to learn her husband exploded into physical rage so readily. But was Sam lashing out at the young man or at the circumstances he's found himself in?

rose a love story review

Editors often make smooth transitions into directing, as they've spent their prior career figuring out what works on screen and what doesn't. While directing shorts, Sheridan has been working steadily as an editor for the past decade, and her experience shows in her feature debut. Rose: A Love Story is immaculately assembled, with not a beat out of step in its visual storytelling, not to mention sound design that helps us experience Sam's paranoia regarding every snapping twig in the woods outside his home.

Where editors often fall down when they pick up the megaphone is in their ability to work with actors, but Sheridan has mined what can only be described as instant star-making turns from Rundle and Stokoe. The pair are so convincing as a married couple – for better, for worse, in sickness – that I found myself googling their names to check if they weren't actually real life lovers, and lo and behold, they're currently engaged! While we get a clear sense early on that tragedy awaits their protagonists here, I suspect big things are in store for Sheridan and her leads.

Rose: A Love Story plays on BFI Player from October 13th - 16th as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2020.

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