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Wild Mountain Thyme

Peter Malone MSC  |  12 February 2021

WILD MOUNTAIN THYME, Ireland/UK, 2020. Starring Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Jon Hamm, Christopher Walken. Directed by John Patrick Shanley. 102 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes and coarse language).

An initial helpful piece of advice might be that an audience needs to be in a genial frame of mind before entering into this unusual Irish romantic comedy. In many ways it is fey. In many ways it is twee. So, the genial frame of mind and mood for this visit to County Mayo requires a blend of fey and twee, with more than a touch of tolerance. (IMDb has something of a catalogue of comments without that touch of tolerance!)

The film has been written and directed by American playwright, John Patrick Shanley, who had some screen popularity in the 1980s with his screenplay for Moonstruck and his foray into film writing and directing with the (fey and twee) Joe Versus the Volcano. However, he was successful with the screen adaptation of his play about a priest and accusations of sexual abuse and his interactions with the local nuns (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep) – Doubt.

In fact, he has adapted one of his plays, Outside Mullingar, for this film. He has chosen the title with reference to a flower, the wild mountain thyme, and a song with plaintive melody and lyrics that is sung throughout the film.

The fey begins almost immediately. A narration by Tony Reilly (Christopher Walken with the demands of an Irish accent), telling us that he is dead, but taking us into this tale of his family. We get a glimpse of his son Anthony as a boy, scenes sniffing flowers (no spoiler, but this is most significant for a revelation at the end of the film, more than fey). Watching him is the little daughter of the neighbours, Rosemary. When Anthony plays with Fiona, Rosemary is more than glum, having to be urged on by her crow-shooting father. So, not exactly Romeo and Juliet, but Anthony and Rosemary are neighbours on rival farms.

Then the adults. Rosemary (Blunt), grieves for her ill mother who dies, manages her farm with great energy – singing Wild Mountain Thyme – but her eyes fixed on Anthony. Anthony (Dornan), also managing his farm, seems to be something of a klutz with his metal detector and pratfalls. Dornan’s Anthony is a 180 degree turn from his 50 Shades shenanigans.

Inserting himself into this drama is Anthony’s American cousin, Adam (Hamm). Adam is upfront, out there, a moneymaker who enjoys drawing attention to himself, has his eyes on the Reilly farm, and perhaps Rosemary. He invites Rosemary to New York and, on impulse, she flies there one day, watches a ballet which is her main ambition, enjoys a meal and flies back, Anthony not noticing her absence.

When Adam decides to return, having kissed Rosemary New York, it is time for some kind of confrontation between Rosemary and Anthony. She, of course, takes the initiative.

What follows is one of the most eccentric romantic conversations in film, with Anthony revealing his personal secret (back to his smell and the flowers when young), she not particularly bothered, evoking his jealousy about the kiss with Adam, giving him Guinness to drink, and, eventually, love.

In case anyone was worried, Adam meets a sympathetic passenger on the plane!

And, in the end, despite the emotional tangles, happiness prevails.

Released 4 January
Peter Malone MSC is an associate Jesuit Media


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