A feature including the starry cast of Jamie Dornan, Emily Blunt, Christopher Walken and Jon Hamm does not strike as the sort that would be sent to world of Video On Demand during the pandemic, but that is the case for Wild Mountain Thyme. The project is the latest from writer-director John Patrick Shanley (the man behind Doubt and Moonstruck) who adapts his own play Outside Mullingar. The result is a curious one – packed with postcard cliché depictions of Ireland and a unconvincing central romance from its leads, lacking in any sense of conviction but brimming with a slight sense of fun.
Wild Mountain Thyme sees sensitive, dim-witted farmer Anthony Reilly (Dornan) live with his cantankerous elderly father Tony (Walken) in rural Ireland. Anthony is oblivious to the affections from strong-minded former childhood friend and fellow farmer Rosemary Muldoon (Blunt), when the pair are thrust into a battle with Antony’s American cousin Adam (Hamm) who aims to buy Tony’s farm and steal the affections of Rosemary.
Praise should go to the striking cinematography of Director of Photography Stephen Goldblatt who opens the film with majestic sweeping aerial shots of the dazzling Emerald Isle with intoxicating colours of green farmland and dark blue seas, set to a grandiose romantic score from Amelia Warner. It’s when Christopher Walken’s Irish-lilted narrator declares “I’m dead now” that the film’s curious tone begins to creep in. There is an undeniable sense of whimsy from the setting and score combined, which craft the near magical albeit painstakingly cliché depiction of Ireland that we have come to expect from American depictions of Celtic nations like Ireland and Scotland.
As the narrative begins, the characterisation is centred on similarly cliched notions – of bickering quaint families. We begin with Tony and Anthony feuding about superstition with Tony declaring that the simple yet kind-hearted Anthony isn’t a Reilly and he’s more of his mother’s side – a Kelly. This pedantic bickering and rural silliness is further paralleled in the arrival of Rosemary and Aoife Muldoon with a strong-willed older generation and an exasperated younger generation going head to head. Anthony’s battle with his own self becomes a focus, with him citing the Kelly madness as the root of much of his silly behaviour and later stating he has a ‘tininess in his brain’. It’s curious to see the handsome, normally suave Dornan in something of an infantilised, simplistic role like this and although likeable, it never quite sits right.
Small-town hijinks fill up much of the narrative and whilst not necessarily always hitting the comic mark they aim to, they do craft a curious sense of madcap camp such as Anthony practising proposing to a donkey and being witnessed by an elderly neighbour who he then playfully chases through the countryside. Plenty of sing-a-longs to the song which shares the film’s title take place in the local pub with the town’s inhabitants singing-a-long likes it programmed into their DNA.
The bond between Anthony and Rosemary (and third friend Fiona) is established in an opening scene which scatters the seeds for their relationship. This scene seems to act as something as a substitute for moments of them bonding in the present narrative – with the pair continually having some form of distance between each other both physically and emotionally. Wild Mountain Thyme feels lacking in natural and convincing scenes of their romantic-build up in the present, therefore it is quite challenging to buy into the idea of them as some form of star-crossed lovers when the foundations do not quite feel there. There’s also a struggle to believe that Blunt’s headstrong farmer would be won over by the somewhat lost and juvenile Anthony, meaning that the film lacks further conviction.
There’s some narrative tension added with the arrival of Hamm’s boorish Adam, the handsome yet dull American cousin – the sort that hires a Rolls Royce to travel to farmland to impress the locals and threatens the colloquial rural way of life that Anthony has become accustomed too. In contrast to the blandly handsome Adam, Dornan’s Anthony does gain a slightly degree of further likeability with his quaint sayings and traditionalism adding a comparative charm.
It is hard to harbour too much ill-feeling to Wild Mountain Thyme. It’s playful, well-meaning and curiously whimsical. There’s a strange charm to the unlikely turns from Dornan and Blunt, whilst the Walken-ification of an elderly Irish farmer character needs to be seen to be believed. Shanley has created a watch that is not massively satisfying as a romantic viewing experience, yet is silly and diverting enough to be pleasant pandemic viewing.
Wild Mountain Thyme is available to rent from all UK Digital Retailers April 30th.