Rosemary Muldoon has always loved Anthony Reilley, who lives on the small farm adjacent to her family’s own. And in his own way, he’s liked her, too. But over the years there’s been more than just a good stretch of lush Irish countryside between them. Call it fealty to their elders, or perhaps Irish modesty, or maybe just a dose of self-doubt; but the two have never been able to truly voice their feelings.
They’ve just looked at the other. Then glanced away when one caught the other’s attention. Their conversations together have been blunt, even condescending at times. And when Anthony even went so far as to suggest Rosemary should move away so that she could have a life that would make her happy, Rosemary’s temper flared.
And one might not want to be standing about with an angry Rosemary nearby.
These days, however, there’s something unexpected afoot. Anthony’s elderly father, Tony, just announced that he might not be leaving his farm to his only son. After all, the young man is in his 30s now with no marriage potential in sight. And Tony has no intention to let the farm die out with the boy. He’d rather sell it to his brother’s son, Adam: a rich American with dreams of running an Irish farm.
Anthony could probably put it all to rest if he’d simply marry Rosemary. But there are secret things that he’s sure would make him a bad husband for any woman.
It’s all so disconcerting, for both Anthony and the pretty Rosemary. But what’s to be done? What’s to be done?
Tony eventually tells his son a story about his own marriage, admitting that he married Mary, Anthony’s mother, without truly loving her. But then one day, late in their marriage, he was working out in the fields and began to sing a song that was always his wife’s favorite. And the “quiet hand of God touched me,” Tony reports. He was suddenly filled with new love for the woman he’d been married to for years.
That proves to be a central theme to this movie: Love can be slow in coming, but patience and loving choices can touch the heart.
As a little girl, Rosemary’s father nudges her out of her sadness by playing a recording of Swan Lake and telling her that she is secretly the white swan. “You can do anything,” he tells her. Rosemary takes that to heart; even later in life, she uses it to motivate herself.
[Spoiler Warning] After the cranky Tony grouses at his son and threatens to sell the farm, he eventually mellows and declares that he was wrongheaded about it all. He apologizes to Anthony and speaks warmly of the love they share. And the two men embrace, weeping.
Anthony and Rosemary talk briefly about death after a funeral. “Where do we go after we die? The sky?” Anthony wonders. “The ground,” Rosemary states flatly. Rosemary also asks him why he stays on the farm if he’s unhappy, to which he replies: “There’s these green fields and the animals living off them. And over that there’s us, living off the animals. And over that there’s that which tends to us, and lives off us, maybe. Whatever that is, it holds me here.”
We hear numerous references to people going to church. And after one funeral, we see someone kneeling in the churchyard, crying out, “Lord, help me.” There’s a large cross on the church steeple.
A woman whom Anthony meets in a bar says she slept with a priest, twice.
An older woman speaks to an old man and asks “You’ve had your children and you’ve had your life. Do you want more than that from God?” Tony tells his son, “God bless you.” Someone calls a horse, “Satan on four legs.” Another person later cries out, “I swear by Satan!” during an argument.
[Spoiler Warning] After they marry, Anthony and Rosemary sing a song together in a local pub and there are loved ones who have died in the audience singing along.
Anthony practices asking Rosemary to marry him by kneeling and proposing in front of a donkey. Someone spots him and then starts rumors about him going crazy and falling in love with the animal.
Adam kisses Rosemary, much to her shock. “Oh my god. What have you done?” she gasps out. During a discussion about the future, Rosemary asks Anthony if he’s a homosexual. He denies that quickly. So she asks him, “Have you seen me naked in your mind?” Anthony and Rosemary kiss again.
Rosemary crashes her vehicle into a tree. As kids, Anthony pushes Rosemary to the ground. A woman falls backward off a wall. A guy tells a story about a man blasting off his own lip with a shotgun. A horse gets riled up and starts kicking the wall inside his pen.
Anthony repeatedly states he’ll kill a certain troublemaker one day. (Though he doesn’t.)
In the course of what is portrayed as normal “Irish” discourse, Jesus’ name is misused some 15 times and God’s name is misused a half-dozen times (once in combination with the word “d–n”). In addition, there are one or two uses each of the words “d–n” and “h—,” as well as the vulgarities “bloody” and “shite.”
Rosemary smokes both pipes and cigarettes on a regular basis (as an adult). And when Anthony makes it clear that he fears it will kill her, she tries to quit for his sake. Tony smokes a pipe, too, even though it’s against his doctor’s orders. He even demands to have a pipe while on oxygen.
We see locals drinking in a pub. Rosemary and Anthony drink glasses of Guinness together in her kitchen. She and Adam have wine at dinner. Anthony gets drunk with a woman he meets in a bar. The two stagger around, laughing.
Anthony and Rosemary talk briefly about the mutual depression they feel in life. And Rosemary takes it one step further, suggesting that she has even had thoughts of suicide (especially in conjunction with her attempt to quit smoking). And she shows him her father’s shotgun that she keeps around to “keep me from depression.”
Unrequited love is a term we all know well. And the fear of it is something that nearly every young person who longs for that connection wrestles with at some point.
Writer-director John Patrick Shanley’s Wild Mountain Thyme, based on his Tony-nominated play Outside Mullingar, takes that well-known ache and stretches it out over a 30-year relationship amid smalltown Irish fears, foibles and impasses.
That makes for a sometimes dramatic, sometimes dryly comedic and sometimes surprisingly profane film. But ultimately, this story suggests that attraction and love can take time, work and patience. And they should if you want to get things right.
The movie’s excellent cast—including Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan and Christopher Walken—helps us through that quandary-laden process. And they help give this slow-moving film the emotional equivalence of standing under a thickly leaved tree while watching a thunderstorm drench a rolling Irish green.
Wild Mountain Thyme, then, won’t be for everyone. But those who appreciate its point of view will pull up their collar and smile.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.