From the very first shot of Wild Mountain Thyme I was thinking “Good god, surely people aren’t still making films like this!” The opening shot being an overhead of the lush slopes of rural Ireland while the soundtrack twiddled away in madly shamrocky fashion.
It got worse. A beejaysus-Irish voiceover announces “I’m dead”, by way of an introduction. The whimsy-ometer starts climbing into the red zone. And then I realised it’s Christopher Walken doing the bad Irish accent. The letters W, T and F start to appear in the air.
What the actual, it actually gets even worse, as we’re introduced to one Oirish character after another. Enter Walken as old farmer Tony Reilly, who’s wondering who to leave his farm to. His neighbour, Aoife Muldoon (Dearbhla Molloy) is having similar thoughts but she’s got a sensible, if whimsically pipe-smoking daughter, Rosemary (Emily Blunt) as an obvious heir. No such luck for Tony, whose son, Anthony (Jamie Dornan) is a big useless lump. So useless that Tony decides to ask an American cousin (Jon Hamm) if he’d rather have the farm instead.
There’s also the matter of a small bit of disputed land connecting the two farms, but we can ignore that since it makes no difference to anything, though writer/director John Patrick Shanley keeps returning to it as if it did.
What we can’t ignore, because it’s what the film is really about (apart from Irish-American Shanley’s affection for the old country), is the thing between Anthony and Rosemary. They love each other. Well, she loves him, even though he’s a big useless lump, but he seems indifferent to her, which is odd because it’s Emily Blunt, if you know what I mean.
Enter Jon Hamm from that America, driving a Rolls Royce up muddy, narrow country roads, to illustrate what a massive tool he is, and to indicate that massive disruption threatens. What if he got the farm… and the girl?
Are you still reading? If so, you’ve probably got a soft spot for this sort of thing, begorrah and to be sure. And, to be fair, there are things in the film’s favour. Imagine a faintly comedic retread of those French adaptations of Maurice Pagnol’s novels like Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources (or Daniel Auteuil’s under-appreciated The Well Digger’s Daughter). It’s cosy, big-hearted and engaging. Everyone in it is on the comedy spectrum (even Dornan, whose performance brings to mind Ardal O’Hanlon’s dim-bulb priest Father Dougal in the Irish comedy series Father Ted). At one point Dornan falls into a lake off a boat, in classic “I just threw myself into the lake” style.
Wild Mountain Thyme is also a relentlessly charming film. There are a some lovely Irish songs. Most of all there’s the thing between Anthony and Rosemary. Anthony is such a dork you have to root for him, and Dornan plays him straight, no winking to camera. The only concession he makes is to bend his Irish accent slightly towards Walken’s, which is eccentric to say the least. But then pointing out eccentric speech patterns in Walken isn’t going to shake the planet to its foundations.
And Blunt and Dornan just fit so well together that each improves the other’s performance. It’s chemistry, invisible magic, but there’s a pragmatic reason too. They know that if they don’t get this relationship right, the film will sink.
Writer/director John Patrick Shanley is best known as a playwright for the theatre, though he notably won an Oscar for writing Moonstruck, another romance about mismatches. You can laugh at his desperate padding of this film’s plot to get the running time up to length. In fact you can be amused by all sorts of things in this film – that Hamm is in it at all! Or Walken! – and it is a bit of a mad custard, but in the end it is also simply rather lovely. Got to be a space for a bit of that in everyone’s life. To be sure.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021