Review: Wild Mountain Thyme (Moonlight Cinema)25 February 2021
“Now why don’t you ever get rid of the two gates?”
“Because that’s the way it is. That’s the way it was, and that’s the way it will be”.
For a Hibernophile, John Shanley’s Wild Mountain Thyme (2020) played expertly into my dreams of the sincerity and lived myth of the Irish people. Gorgeous shots of County Mayo, backgrounded by the ancient Mount Nephin, covered in rain, fog, dew, and so rarely under blue sky, made this a film not for big thinking, nor for statement, nor for commentary. This was a film about small people with small lives, cradled by the ages-old Irish Legend, quick wit, and common rural tongue.
The Moonlight setting was perfect. Cool next to the Botanic Garden’s duck ponds, clear and starry night, surrounded by trees with the excitement of skyscrapers trimming the horizon. The other patrons, most of them there for a bougie wine and cheese getup with friends, with regulars and first dates alike. They ended the film with mutterings, “there was no chemistry!”, “It was so one-sided!”, “Was that the dude from Fifty Shades of Grey?”, and my favourite, “Why weren’t there any jigs? It’s a film about Ireland, “WHY WEREN’T THERE ANY DAMN JIGS?.
I felt differently.
Packing silently, a lone Irish wannabe donned his cap and strolled out the gates softly singing Molly Malogne, Mo Ghille Mear, The Foggy Dew.
The romance between Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan’s leads became insignificant whilst set against the backdrop of their two farms and regional Ireland. The film’s central comedic motif focuses on two gates between the unsure lovers’ neighbouring farms. They’re laborious to open and close, inefficient, and a ‘one gate’ solution will never float despite the evident ease it would bring. On the surface, Shanley posits their opening and closing as metaphorical of the ‘open-close-open-close’ romance between the confused lovers. Whilst this worked neatly for most of the film, its resolution was outshone by the metaphor’s subtext, the ‘open-close-open-close’ from ancient past to modern love, the closing of tradition and commitment, and the opening of individuality and agency.
For sure, there were shortfalls. The accents by non-native Irish speakers were short at times, and the chemistry between Emily Blunt’s and Jamie Dornan’s characters suffered from unsure and at times confusing pacing. Christopher Walken as the stalwart father figure, Tony Reilly, was an interesting casting choice. I just could not think of him as anyone other than Christopher Walken.
Shanley’s ‘open-close’ message endures through these however. Thick regional dialects, village characters and plenty of good-natured bickering consistently reinforce Christopher Walken’s – ah, sorry, Tony Reilly’s – hereditary conviction for staying on your land, staying in the community “just like your father, his father before him, the farther before that!”
Reilly’s conviction is presented against the canvas of an ancient tree atop a hill, silhouetted by a moonlit sky. The unchanging Mount Nephin reinforces this in situ surrounded by clear skies, other times early morning fog or black in the night. All this stoniness and seriousness is given a balm by eye candy sweeping shots of the famous emerald countryside with reels and barndances played over-top at a kip.
Shanley tells us here that Ireland is listening, watching, and reacting. The inhabitants sharing in its beauty are safe in their quirks and incomprehensibility to foreigners. Safe in their trust of the seasons, in the way of things. The uniqueness of Blunt and Dornan’s story is a triumph of love in the nurturing context of intergenerational responsibility and reliability. As it goes with Irish folk tradition, generations after them who will still be able to see the two gates open to each other, the silhouetted hill, the temporal Mount Nephin, the boggy roads and old stone fences where they fell in love.
Shanley’s subtext speaks to the modern loss of patience, of heeding permanency and the lessons of history. This film spoke to a love made laborious not by the complexity of its actors, but by the fact that Ireland had already breathed the past, the present, and future into the lovers’ story.
The film ends, all the arcs of hereditary tension, familial grief, bottled self-concept, and tradition meeting the present marked resolved as all the characters pile into their local on Friday night. Blunt and Dornan duet the folk ballad and film’s namesake, singing their love into Ireland’s lived legend.
I will range through the wilds
And the deep glen sae dreamy
And return wi’ their spoils
Tae the bower o’ my dearie.
Will ye go, lassie, go?
And we’ll all go together
To pull wild mountain thyme
All around the bloomin’ heather.