From Writer/Director John Patrick Shanley, and based on his own play Outside Mullingar, Wild Mountain Thyme comes with a scuffle of discontent before it has even been seen. That was down to a fairly dated trailer that sent social media into a possible Irish stereotype frenzy. In truth, I was also concerned about what was to come, yet equally intrigued to see if the film was as clichéd as suggested, or if there was something deeper within.
The initial summary? It’s a bit of both. While Wild Mountain Thyme isn’t the finest film with such incredible names involved you’ll ever see, it was less trite than I expected despite a series of shifty accents seeping in from time-to-time. It’s also not your usual rom com, there’s an unusual lingering romanticism embedded in the lead characters that you don’t often see these days.
Set in a farming community in Ireland, and filmed in County Mayo, Shanley’s film tells us the love story of two lost and lonely souls, who’ve known each other forever, live right next to each other but have never romantically linked their lives. Emily Blunt plays the passionate and strong-willed Rosemary Muldoon, who’s in love with neighbour Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan) but the thing is, he’s never noticed how they’d be perfect together. You get the picture.
Dornan’s Anthony spends his days on the farm (with a metal detector) but is very much the introvert to Rosemary’s extrovert, who stays out of the way to try and get on with his day-to-day. Dornan plays it like Colin Firth in Love, Actually – Charming, accident-prone and somewhat uncomfortable in his own existence but also actually quite natural and funny. It made me wonder what he’d be like in a Colin Farrell-esque In Bruges role. His Father Tony, played by the legendary Christopher Walken, doesn’t have a lot of faith in his son and so decides to sell off the family farm to wealthy American Adam (Jon Hamm), which in turn begins to fast-track the things in his life he’s been unknowingly overlooking.
Blunt’s character, Rosemary, is accompanied by long, flame-red hair and (as always) she’s fully committed and wonderful in the role. Her character is a dreamer but also very sure of her intentions, well, for a while until Hamm’s classy American turns up and possibly begins to make her consider a life outside of the country. You can see where it goes, if you’ve watched any rom com ever but, you know, that’s not exactly unexpected in this genre, it’s clear what we’re getting here.
While the base story is there, it’s far from perfect when it comes to balance with unusual tone shifts throwing you in and out of the story. It’s very unclear ‘when’ this is set, as it appears to be modern but there’s little to no tech involved, plus there’s a ‘who owns what gate/field’ sub-story that’s so vague it becomes confusing, even though it’s quite simple once it concludes. Sure, you cannot doubt the slightly-Hollywood Irish that exist within the film but I didn’t think it was that offensive, maybe just flickers of a North American Irish-themed bar seeping through. Sure, Walken’s accent wavers all over the place but he has some beautiful monologues that give the character grace, and Blunt occasionally also slips in and out of her accent.
The stage play vibe never really leaves, so maybe they’ve lost the scale of imagination when it comes to putting this down on film, despite Stephen Goldblatt’s cinematography making Mayo look as stunning as it really can. The one thing that never drops is the level of romanticised language, which drifts and seeps about like poetry and whimsical storytelling but I didn’t find it too sickly, if anything, it was unusually refreshing to be taken off in that direction. Although the lack of definite era doesn’t help, and they over-complicate the story by putting too many side characters in, much like Hamm’s to be honest.
On digging out positives, Wild Mountain Thyme has a thread of innocence running throughout, something you don’t see as often these days. If you’re up for things making perfect sense and pulling out logic, go somewhere else, but if you’re after some old-school romantic escapism, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the silliness of what if’s, maybes and that Irish sentiment of not always revealing more than you must, which isn’t too far from the truth in my experience (in a good way). Is it a bit of a muddle, and strange in places? Yes. Does it have the right intentions? Yes. At its best when it’s not taking itself too seriously, and when Dornan and Blunt are having fun. I must get in a special mention for Dearbhla Molloy as well, who is under-utilised.
Wild Mountain Thyme may not quite be the most unforgettable film you’ll see, and I’ve absolutely seen some bad stuff, but it’s a harmless, easy watch if you’re ready for it and the more I think about it, there’s no reason it won’t eventually become an unusual cult watch.