Did Irish independence ever occur in Lindsay Lohan’s Netflix film Irish Wish? An urgent investigation

A viewing of Irish Wish, the romantic comedy unleashed by Netflix just in time for the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, may prompt many questions. Why are these strains of rom-com always so chaste? Did Lindsay have a nice time shooting in Ireland? Has God abandoned us to a Hell of our own making?

For this most patriotic of bank holiday weekends though, there is a much more pressing question that comes to mind when watching Lindsay Lohan’s antiquated ersatz Irish antics. The version of Ireland that we see in the film, as you can imagine, exaggerates all the usual stereotypes that outsiders expect; magical whimsy, a land of drinkers with a twinkle in their eye, castles and cottages. It’s a certified Carroll’s giftshop, a film that can delight us all with its derangedness but more broadly and deliberately aims to appeal to the kind of people who didn’t know that Banshees of Inisherin was a period piece.

The uncanny characters, the over-furnished cheapness, the child’s play level stakes – these are par for the course in the Netflix romantic comedy, which always come across like they take place in an alternate, glossier, asexual universe. But in that alternate, glossier, asexual universe…did the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic ever occur? Was there a War of Independence, an Anglo-Irish Treaty, a partition? The unsettling setting of Irish Wish harks back to simpler times, a theme park presentation of the island, particularly as its perceived by American tourists. But those simpler times are primarily a period in which the entire island was still under British rule, and many of those Americans are blissfully unaware of any modern distinction between Ireland and Britain at all.

The film sees Lohan play Madeline Kenny, an editor who pines for the author she’s working with, Paul Kennedy. When Paul’s whirlwind romance with Maddie’s friend Emma takes them all to Mayo to be married, Maddie makes a wish at Lough Tay (which is in Wicklow, not Mayo, but sure) that she be the one to marry Paul Kennedy instead. Her wish brings her into the world where she is Paul’s bride-to-be after all, only for Maddie to find herself drawn instead to the charming photographer, James. Mild romance and alien dialogue ensues.

Could the reason everyone in Irish Wish speaks like they’ve suffered a severe head injury be because their heads are still being ground beneath the brutal heel of Perfidious Albion? We took a closer look at Irish Wish, and we wish to present the following evidence that it takes place in a less-liberated Ireland in this urgent dispatch, our flying column if you will.

1. Netflix Romcoms are Monarchist Agitprop

Romantic comedies are a fantasy, we get that. And the kind that come exclusive to Netflix, despite their cookie-cutter plots and lowered ambitions are not without their own charms, they’re simple, jolly junk food watches. Their frequent use of royalty as characters is mostly a shorthand for the romantic fantasy of being desired by someone prestigious and powerful, and the vicarious thrill of being pampered by them.

But also as well they’re pro-royal propaganda, definitely. The tracts of Netflix present the ludicrous fiction that modern monarchs are competent diplomats instead of self-centred drains on national resources, decisive leaders on the world stage instead of bumbling relics, and thoughtful, loving partners instead of cold cheating weirdos who might [REDACTED] you into silence if you [REDACTED] [REDACTED]. See also Crown, The.

Under the amorphously shared universe of Netflix romantic comedies, where Aldovia and Belgravia thrive on the continent, it’s certainly possible that the British Empire never suffered the same decline. With its civil unrest quashed by the occasional well-timed baking competition and most political conflicts solved in the nick of time by discovering a hidden Christmas bauble, perhaps rebel forces in Ireland never gathered enough momentum to rise.

2. The Hunky Irish Guy Lindsay Lohan wishes to marry is British, Actually

Paul Kennedy, the writer of ‘Two Irish Hearts’ and who is almost always referred to by his full name, is played by Welsh actor Alexander Vlahos. Ireland certainly has no shortage of actors, and the film was shot in Ireland itself, so this seems like a strange choice. Unless of course if in the world of Irish Wish the landed gentry retained an Anglophonic edge. Paul and his family live in the stately manor of Kennedy House (a combination of Kilruddery House and Powerscourt), where they are served by a butler and where Paul’s mother speaks with a distinctive upper-class British accent. How did they come by this land is what I want to know. Maddie refers to Paul as “one of the best-selling authors in the UK”. His status and standing in Ireland itself is never mentioned. Or is it? If Ireland remains fully a part of the UK, then her saying this in Ireland about an Irish writer and his book “Two Irish Hearts” remains a perfectly reasonable reference.

3. Smoked cod, smoking gun

On her way to Kennedy House pre-wish, Maddie takes a bus where she gets to chat more with the other angle in her love triangle, James the photographer. James puts his foot in it when he slags off Paul’s latest book, which Maddie actually wrote (possibly? The film does seem to conflate editing and ghost writing), which prompts Maddie’s defence of Paul as above, “one of the best-selling authors in the UK”. James is not impressed. “They sell a lot of fish and chips in the UK too, doesn’t mean they’re any good.”

Later, post-wish James promises to take Maddie for “the best fish and chips in Ireland”, and she says she thought he didn’t like them. This is supposed to be a cute little call back – but again, James specifically mentioned the United Kingdom when he brought up fish and chips previously. Either this is inelegant and inconsistent writing in a Netflix romcom, OR, again, when the film mentions Ireland and the United Kingdom we are to understand them as like-for-like. If the chip fits, eat it.

4. Considering James Joyce and the Cliffs of Moher

Standing at the Cliffs of Moher with James, Lindsay remarks “I think I just stepped into a James Joyce novel”. An odd remark, given that Joyce is better known for avant-garde wordplay than florid prose in praise of Ireland, a land from which he self-exiled. But taking it as a given that Lindsay’s character and the film’s creative team definitely know this, and have definitely read the works of James Joyce, we should consider this quote further. What did James Joyce have to say about the Cliffs of Moher?

It is like looking down from the cliffs of Moher into the depths. Many go down into the depths and never come up. Only the trained diver can go down into those depths and explore them and come to the surface again.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (James Joyce, 1916)

The quote comes as Stephen Dedalus and the Dean of Studies debate the philosophy of aesthetics – while the Dean considers these profound and perilous, as above, Stephen draws his understanding of aesthetics from the ideas of Aristotle and Aquinas.

It is apparent that this quote specifically is what makes Maddie think of Joyce in this moment, as she herself is pondering aesthetics in this moment. She would love to get married at the Cliffs, them being so beautiful, but Paul Kennedy considers them a tourist trap and would never approve. She does not want to cause a fuss, and so she projects a contentment, and goes ahead with Paul’s wishes, rather than pursue her own freedom.

In Politics, Aristotle wrote that “Again, men in general desire the good, and not merely what their fathers had.” Similar thinking to the Irish revolutionaries, wouldn’t you agree? Any why would Maddie, drawing from Joyce, drawing from Aquinas, drawing from Aristotle, be considering the nature of aesthetics, drawing as she is a connection between the beautiful land she admires and the limiting of her own happiness to the satisfaction of others, if the comparison did not itself go both ways, and that in fact the land, Ireland, was similarly limited in its own happiness to the satisfaction of others, that is, still part of the British Empire?

Maddie is a reader, she loves Joyce, it all adds up.

5. Remember, remember the 21st of September

While James and Maddie are trapped in an Irish pub together, getting in a romantic game of darts, the wedding party dances the night away to the tune of September by Earth, Wind and Fire. Smiling faces and bouncing bodies, not a care in the world as they dance to the words;

Do you remember
The 21st night of September?

The 21st of September was an ill-remembered day during the War of Independence. On the night of the 20th, the Black and Tans went on a rampage in Balbriggan, burning more than fifty homes and businesses, looting, and killing two local men, leaving many in the town locals without homes or jobs, the violence raged into the early hours, and the next day was one of mourning, not celebration. The event drew international condemnation on the British, and led to much debate in the British parliament and criticism of British government policy in Ireland. The Tans were acting in reckless retaliation, seeking revenge for the killing of two police officers by the IRA.

Dancing in September? Never was a cloudy day? Do they dance so because in their world the Sack of Balbriggan never happened, because there never was an IRA, or because all revolutionary efforts were quashed at the outset?

I am not a crackpot. Who performs the song? Earth, Wind and Fire. The four elements, with one missing, erased – AIR. And what is ‘air’ an anagram of?

Are you seeing how I am not a crackpot?

6. Lindsay’s marriage to Hunky Irish Guy is usurped by Hunky British Guy

Irish culture as it exists in Irish Wish, is, it may shock you to hear, quite broad in its presentation. The people are simple and good natured, with a joke on their lips and a twinkle in their eye, the fields are green and full of sheep, and sure we do like a pint all the same don’t we, one barman joking to Maddie that to not like beer would count for treason round these parts.

Even our stereotypical penchant for fighting makes an appearance. When Paul finds out that Maddie’s heart is now with James, the Englishman, he attacks, shocking onlookers as they brawl at the wedding venue. James, who everyone loves. Praised in the pub, in the village, even by the other wedding attendees in the end. Paul is framed by the film firmly as the impotent and ignorant wrong-doer for attacking Maddy’s true love, her rightful love, thematically the ideal partner for her in the magical setting of Ireland, which they both love. Her and James. English James.

In real life, which this Netflix romcom otherwise quite closely resembles, no one has a word to say about James sweeping in and taking over, it’s Paul who is in the wrong. James’ rightful place, even as seen by St Brigid herself, is the true ruler.

The Irish of Irish Wish don’t know themselves. They don’t know freedom. The Irish yearn for freedom, like Maddie, like Aristotle, like us all.

1 comment / Add your comment below

  1. Well yeah it is a strange thing to say….but then again….

    “It is like looking down from the cliffs of Moher into the depths. Many go down into the depths and never come up. Only the trained diver can go down into those depths and explore them and come to the surface again.” James Joyce

    So perhaps the scriptwriter is a Joycean nerd?

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