Two young farmers in Ireland argue over a small strip of land and fail to realise they are meant for each other…
The Wild Mountain Thyme trailer came out last year to general merriment (which to be fair we needed) at the grimly-determined, overegged Irishness of it. Even The National Leprechaun Museum complained on Twitter that it was all too much. When the leprechaun stans think you’re overdoing it, you should probably listen.
The Irish accents came in for a lot of stick too, with Variety reporting writer-director John Patrick Shanley defending his actors, saying “You have to make the accent more accessible to a global audience”.
The film is now finally out in the UK, but is it mint or a load of old borage? A reason to be chervil or one to be kept at bay? Did I, dear reader, lovage or hate it? (Sorrel not sorrel.)
This is a weird love story, and gossamer-thin. Its main problem is not its whimsy, but that there simply isn’t enough of it. In fact the whole film is overly timid, a shrinking violet that doesn’t really know what to do with its quirks: it’s not funny enough, romantic enough, or indeed odd enough. It’s set now, sort of, though it’s also old-fashioned.
Farmers Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan) and Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt), separated by some lush green fields and a seemingly unbridgeable emotional gulf, spend decades not getting together; obstacles in their way including but not limited to a mild-sounding dispute over a strip of land once sold by Anthony’s dad Tony to Rosemary’s father Chris.
She is more frustrated than he, stuck as he is with an enduring sense that he doesn’t belong: as a farmer, and on the farm. Anthony comes across as someone always slightly out of place, existing in a cloud of permanent slight bafflement, not unlike me watching this.
Dornan is rather touching as the socially awkward young farmer, though he has zero chemistry with Blunt, which is probably why I was rooting for her to run off with Jon Hamm, who plays Anthony’s suave American cousin Adam. Rosemary’s frustrations over Anthony’s refusal to actually see her anew seem less about true love and more that he’s conveniently local and a known quantity.
That small strip of land creates an ongoing scratchiness between the two farming families. It cuts across Tony’s own right of way, so anyone visiting the Reillys must get out, open two gates, drive through then get out to close them again, come rain or shine, I mean rain or drizzle. It doesn’t seem the worst issue that can arise between neighbours, though when Tony tries to buy it back Rosemary is in no mood to sell.
Anthony’s discomfort with his life doesn’t stop his devastation when Tony (Christopher Walken) announces he’s selling the family farm to Adam rather than leaving it to Anthony. Naturally Adam arrives for a visit, a blast of smooth American moneyed sophistication, flirting uncomfortably with Rosemary and making Anthony feel even worse.
Wild Mountain Thyme is based on Shanley’s own play Outside Mullingar, its characters based on his Irish relatives. The stage origins are obvious from the small, tight-knit cast to some inevitable across-the-farm-kitchen-table conversations, though that’s no bad thing in itself. A close-knit drama rooted in a large looming landscape often makes for good contrasts.
The problem is nothing much happens, and the meandering behaviour and relationships of the main characters aren’t engaging enough to make us care. The emotion passed me by, and my desperation for Adam and Rosemary to drive off into the beautiful sunset in his gorgeously unsuitable giant Rolls Royce stemmed from Anthony — sweet though he is — coming across as simply irritating.
Even Anthony’s eventual confession, a twist that on paper sounds completely bonkers, actually plays out as rather muted.
I’m not even sure it’s meant to be a bizarre twist, considering the low-key nature of the film. Maybe it’s just another little quirk? To be honest after spending lockdown scrolling through Twitter, watching people gradually stripping away their own emotional layers and protective shells, it seemed pretty mild as far as revelations go. A second, similar one is also more humdrum than wtf (or maybe I was mistaking simple metaphors for literal truths? By then it was hard to tell).
The film reminded me of one of those stereotype-filled Sunday night serials that would run in happy obscurity for 25 years before inexplicably winning a BAFTA. I doubt this will win anything when even the leprechauns won’t vote for it, though as Rosemary trudges around in what looks like a long nightie, boots and a wool shawl, with Anthony cutting an incongruous figure stalking the land wearing a huge white macintosh and wielding a metal detector, it feels like an attempt at that kind of off-beat ambience.
Sadly despite Rosemary’s romantic timelessness, Anthony’s idiosyncrasies and their families’ long histories, Wild Mountain Thyme never lands an emotional connection with the audience.
On the plus side, the score is gorgeous (by composer Amelia Warner, Jamie Dornan’s wife) and the landscapes are stunning, though the weather seems to be doing the film’s emotional heavy lifting as damp days are replaced by stormy nights.
Despite managing to be both odd and dull — an unusual achievement — unless bad accents offend you there’s nothing earth-shatteringly awful about this. (In Emily Blunt’s partial defence, Christopher Walken’s is even more jarring than hers.) And after a year where my movie viewing veered between end-times stories where I could watch fictional characters having a worse time than us, and calm and comforting films where nothing much happens, maybe Wild Mountain Thyme simply caught me at the wrong point on that cinematic seesaw.
Wild Mountain Thyme is out now in the US on digital and DVD, and is available from all major UK digital retailers from 30 April 2021.
Watch the trailer now: