From ‘what is Rosebud?’ to ‘what is the Matrix?’, film has a long tradition of using compelling questions to hook in audiences. An air of fascination and mystery, well harnessed, can be as strong a pull into theatre seats as any dazzling movie star or cutting-edge technology. But in our modern world, where more jaded viewers can have most of their questions answered at the press of a button – correctly or otherwise – and where the sheer saturation of information at all times means we are up to speed with all major media whether we ever intend to watch it or not, a new question is increasingly successful at hooking in potential movie viewers:
“What the fuck was that?”
Yesterday evening, the trailer for upcoming romantic drama Wild Mountain Thyme went live. Irish people had a…strong reaction. Not since Cats have social media timelines been so united in shock and awe and laughter and confusion. And shurr and bejaysus, can ye blame us in the name of Jaysus, Mary, Joseph and all the little angels and saints? Have ye seen the feckin’ thing?
Few things to unpack here.
The trailer tells the story of fiery lass Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt), shawl-clad, frustrated and madly in love in equal measure with neighbour Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan). The lad is but a humble farmer, and though by sheer, queer coincidence he may stumble into the odd bit of poetry (ohhhhhh and when he says dose tings doesn’t Rosemary’s heart be lepping about the place like the Salmon of Knowledge), he is otherwise incapable of expressing his true feelings and declaring his love for his childhood sweetheart. And wouldn’t he want to be hurrying up all the same and not be leaving the poor creature a lonely spinster the rest of her life?
Ah but that’s not the only problem Anthony has now. His aul fella Tony (Christopher Walken), sure and all that there be nuthin’ between his young lad’s ears but the damp breeze of Mullingar, has decided to sell up the farm to no less than an American (Jon Hamm), rather than leaving it to Anthony himself. Very fancy looking lad you have to say, the American, and him having a car and all, very modren all together. Sure can ya blame Rosemary for giving this new fella a look, an American, with white teeth and a suit that’s been cleaned and comin’ over all the way from New York where your man Frank Sinatra does be from and all? Did we mention he was American? He probably does be eating fancy tings like dem New York hot dogs, rather than raw potatoes like we do be having round here. Anthony doesn’t like it one bit is de ting, ah he’ll have something to say about dat master and bejaysus maybe he’ll swing a few digs yet cos we do like a fight don’t we the Irish ah we do to be sure bejaysus and begorrah we’re but simple craytures under the eyes of the Lord and by diddlyidle dee and diddly idle doh tah be shurr diddly dee dIDdley iDle dEeeeeEeEeeEEe DIDDLEY DOO. Ahhhh I do be needin’ scissors so I do! 61!!!
The rejected Fáilte Ireland shots that open the trailer already have you wary, and then the accents come in. Bad Irish accents on film are nothing new of course. Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and more have all punished Irish ears in years gone by. Emily Blunt’s is not great, seemingly having been instructed by her accent coach to throw a few d’s instead of th’s in dere and call it a day. Jamie Dornan, despite being from Down, is not much better, but it’s possible he’s just bringing himself down to everyone else’s level. It’s also possible, not to be unkind to the 50 Shades star, that his own level has never been that high to begin with. Though his character here doesn’t seem to be the most confident chap around, God love him, his voice is less a sexy brogue and more an old fluffy slipper dangling precariously on-foot. Then there’s Christopher Walken.
Christopher Walken has, you might say, a very distinctive voice already. Here, playing a weary midlands (by the coast?) farmer, he sounds like an Irish person doing a bad Christopher Walken impression AND an exaggerated Quiet Man lilt at the same time. The brain cannot process it. Listen too long and the mind starts to collapse in on itself. The sound waves can’t bounce off surfaces and make it back properly to the ear drums as everything around you bends away from the sound to avoid being near it.
There are so many questions, or rather there would be if we weren’t all too aware that Americans still view Ireland as a magical land stuck for eternity some time in the late 30s, which is why it looks like all the research for Wild Mountain Thyme was done in a Carroll’s gift shop. But as presented in this trailer, it’s all so much more disconcerting than some thick tourist bellowing at you about their ancestry at the bus stop.
The film doesn’t look stuck in time, it looks warped in time; Jon Hamm sureally offering the hope and glamour that New York offered Irish immigrants in centuries past all while the Twin Towers are clearly absent from the skyline. Blunt talking about freezing her eggs while wearing that Red Setter wig, less ‘wearing make up applied by Hollywood professionals’ so much as ‘clad in shite and rolled around a bit’. The verbage is twee and so flowery that you will choke on the stench; “it was he that kissed me!” is getting a lot of attention, but asking the stars “why did you make me so?” very much set the alarm bells ringing for the kind of legendary terrible dialogue you get in heavyweight Hollywood dross like Winter’s Tale. God, remember that? Hopefully Will Smith will show up in this as the Devil too. At the crossroads, at midnight, of course.
When Hollywood has such a track record of offering these patronising depictions of Ireland, why has this particular one so universally drawn repulsion, derision and gleeful fascination alike? Well, first of all, just listen back to those accents again. Fuck me. It might also be because we thought we were finally past all this. Normal People‘s status as an international phenomenon offered the promise of Americans becoming besotted with a whole new batch of stereotypical, misunderstood or exaggerated tropes, and in Daisy Edgar-Jones it has a British actress making a genuinely decent effort at doing an accent. Also, Aiden Gillen’s ever-expanding menagerie of whimsical and unplaceable voices was an endearing twist on the usual dynamic, an Irish actor doing renowned, bizarre accents that viewers around the world could appreciate for how uncanny they were, whether he plays an American, an actual Irishman, or someone from a made up fantasy land. He would talk, people would be confused and oh how we Irish would laugh as the tables, it seemed, had turned. Alas, it now seems like Gillen’s mission from the Irish deep-state to drive down Bad Accent SEO was all for nothing.
Wild Mountain Thyme is adapted by John Patrick Shanley from his own play Outside Mullingar. Shanley is a writer of considerable pedigree, having won a Tony Award for Doubt, as well as an Oscar for Moonstruck. And Moonstruck is a contrived and overwrought romance with ludicrous stereotypes that’s also really good, so who knows? Maybe Wild Mountain Thyme will be good, despite looking like an Inception dream staged to con an Irish-American pensioner out of the farm they inherited decades ago but have never visited. The film is set for release in American from December 11th in cinemas (lol) and on demand (there you go), but it has not yet been scheduled for an Irish release, possibly under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. You can be sure we’ll be trying to find a way to watch it regardless by any means necessary. Double-billed with Blackbird if at all possible.
Of course we want to watch it. Many of those who reacted to the trailer with horror and fury will be the same. The dramatic tension of “what the fuck am I watching” has a power that genuinely compelling narrative and well-crafted presentation cannot always compete with. This is not a matter of ‘so bad it’s good’, to find oneself wondering how much worse a film can possibly get means that you are truly invested in it. It shows how even for viewers overfed on a media diet, movie magic remains alive and well in its ability to hook you into impossible worlds through sight and sounds, even the sight of Emily Blunt dressed like she’s trapped in a museum and the sound of whatever it is that Jamie Dornan is doing.
There is no guarantee that the final product won’t push beyond car crash viewing into something unwatchably and enragingly terrible. When you stop to watch a car crash after all you are always putting yourself at risk that you might be next. And it’s frustrating that these same stereotypical romances seem to still get so much attention, budget and marketing, when modern, lived-in, quality Irish romances like Dating Amber, Twice Shy and more struggle to get seen. But still. We have to know.
Or to put it another way, ‘why did they make it so’?