Let us get the disclaimer out of the way first. There is every chance that John Patrick Shanley’s Wild Mountain Thyme will be a masterpiece for the ages. All we have is a trailer, and there have been frequent examples – the first Paddington film for starters – of a minor classic following a disastrous promo. Shanley won an Oscar for writing Moonstruck and had further success with the melodramatic Doubt. You never know.
Now we can begin.
What in the name of holy bejaysus and all the suffering saints is this benighted cowpat? When the poster first emerged for Wild Mountain Thyme, more than a few Irish film fans wetted their lips dramatically. Let us be honest. We enjoy getting annoyed at phoney Paddywhackery almost as much as we enjoy ranting about the British claiming Saoirse Ronan.
Emily Blunt is spirited Rosemary Muldoon. Jamie Dornan is hunky neighbour Anthony Reilly. They have fancied one another forever but, as the tagline warned us, "there is nothing more dangerous … than an Irish woman in love" (Maureen O'Hara has a lot to answer for). Surely, the trailer couldn't live up to the potential.
It could and it has. The opening shots feel so close to parody one half suspects an editor is having a laugh during his last day on the job. Over shots of cliffs and babbling brooks, a twinkly voice intones the words "welcome to Ireland". It is elderly farmer Christopher Walken and he is here to tell us about the tension between Rosemary and his son Anthony.
Apparently young Anthony asked “questions of the stars” while Rosemary – “besotted with love” – walked confidently up to horses. As an adult, Anthony speaks in the same dew-drenched romantic clichés that Chicagoans spell out in bacon and cabbage before dying the river green on St Patty’s Day [sic]. “Oh, when he says dose tings!” Rose says before staggering off to the boreen in shawl and hobnail boots.
Before being unfair, let us be fair(ish) and acknowledge that, by the standards of the last century, the accents aren’t that bad. Some fun has already been had at Christopher Walken’s expense, but this is not a stinker to compare with Tom Cruise in Far and Away or Mickey Rourke in A Prayer for the Dying. Blunt (South Wandsworth) and Dornan (South Belfast) don’t exactly embarrass themselves with their assault on the midlands.
But everything else…
Rather than attempting any structured breakdown of the fatheaded racial stereotyping, we would be better off just making a list. Dornan is seen rehearsing his romantic lines to a donkey. An auld fellow looks over a drystone wall and doesn’t exactly say “I hear you are making a racist film now, Tony. How did you get interested in that sort of thing?” Dornan wears the class of sideburns we haven’t seen since Ray Lynam and the Hillbillies were in their prime.
Hang on a second. Is Anthony actually pulling a coracle from the lake? Is he now flailing at something with a hurley while floating precariously in that same traditional vessel? Well, maybe the film is set in the 1940s.
No, Rosemary talks about "freezing her eggs" and, shortly after Jon Hamm (tragically not playing Irish) makes an appearance, she visits an unmistakably contemporary New York City. Blunt has, of course, been saddled with a burgundy wig because, just as all French men wear strings of onions round their necks, all Irish women are "feisty redheads".
The title and the theme music reference a song – repeated refrain “Go, Lassie, go” – that, though adapted by a Belfast man, is now largely associated with Scotland. Almost any snatch of dialogue would illustrate the levels of patronising romanticisation at work, but nothing beats the lovers’ tiff in an empty stretch of blindingly green pasture.
“I don’t like a fight,” Anthony says.
“Well, who does?” Rosemary replies.
“Half of Ireland. Just not me.”
Ha, ha, ha. The Irish are really violent. That’s the joke, you see. Now, that you mention it, the more I watch of this, the more I am tempted to punch somebody.
There are many more important things to worry about (and, yet again, we stress this is only a trailer), but it remains baffling that this class of stereotyping passes without comment in the United States. It is most unlikely that American filmmakers would now release a film set in Mexico featuring characters who sleep all day beneath giant sombreros. The distinction, perhaps, is that these sentimental Irish constructions – unlike racist representations of Mexicans or Italians – are often the work of people who consider themselves sons and daughters of the nation depicted. One assumes John Patrick Shanley has some Irish blood. What other Americans would argue with him?
It is hardly worth complaining. Released next month, Wild Mountain Thyme should bring Irish people an enormous amount of ironic pleasure. The great tragedy is that Shanley didn’t retain the name of his source play. Outside Mullingar (for so it was called) might just be the funniest title for anything ever.