Wild Mountain Thyme review – Emily Blunt in an awful Irish stew

There’s a sublime awfulness and condescension to this American vision of Ireland, adapted by writer-director John Patrick Shanley from his Broadway stage hit: a mind-boggling stew of bizarre paddywhackery that makes John Ford’s The Quiet Man look like a documentary about crack dealers. Two of its stars, Emily Blunt en Christopher Walken – both playing Irish people – engage in a colossal intergenerational battle for who can do the worst Irish accent. Blunt and Walken’s brogue-off makes this the King Kong v Godzilla event of inauthentic Irish voices.

It’s supposed to be happening in the present day, but it might as well be happening in 1958. Blunt plays Rosemary, a beautiful, sharp-tongued farmer’s daughter in County Westmeath, and isn’t she in love with the soft eejit from the farm next door? The first time we see her, she is actually smoking a pipe, although the presumed “joke” status of that moment is undermined by the keynote of syrupy-poetic whimsy that dominates the rest of the movie.

Her beloved is bashful and boyish Anthony, played by Jamie Dornan, who exasperatingly fails to romance her and wears a light macintosh that makes him look like Frank Spencer. Later, shy dreamer Anthony will murmur to the increasingly frustrated Rosemary that he believes himself to be a honeybee. The revelation that he also thinks that she is a flower is the romantic point. But for a while there, he looked like the star of some insidiously subtle psychological horror.

But that’s not the least of it. Anthony’s cantankerous old farmer dad Tony (Walken) is threatening to disinherit his son and leave the land instead to his American nephew, played by Jon Hamm, who has a strange yearning to leave the world of Manhattan banking and be an Irish farmer – and the whole film is effectively endorsing and elevating this luxury-tourist daydream to a governing artistic principle.

It’s a bit like Nancy Meyer’s The Holiday, and Rosemary is incidentally awarded a Pretty Woman-style moment of sobbing rapture at the ballet. I couldn’t help remembering how Anjelica Huston’s film Agnes Browne was based on the novel The Mammy by Brendan O’Carroll, who went on to develop the same story into the TV comedy Mrs Brown’s Boys. Maybe O’Carroll can take over Blunt’s role for a new show: Rosemary’s Roving Honeybee.

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