Yesterday, the trailer dropped for Irish-American rom-com Mountain Wild Thyme, and social media reacted – as it so often does – with a collective honk of derisive laughter.
The main cause for all this merriment was the display of terrible Irish accents from the film’s three stars: Emily Blunt, Christopher Walken and Jamie Dornan (who is actually from Ireland). You don’t need to be Irish yourself to realise that something has gone terribly wrong here, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what. To find out, I DM’d some Irish people I know and asked them to explain — it’s called journalism, sweetie.
“Jamie took a lot of the heat, because of course he is actually Irish, but still sounds like an American attempting to do an Irish accent,” says Ciara, an Irish woman. “I think that’s probably to do with the fact his accent wouldn’t suit what an American audience would expect an Irish accent to sound like.”
To back this up, Ciara points me in the direction of a story about Tom Cruise, who was lambasted for his terrible Irish accent in 1992 historical drama Far and Away. Apparently, Cruise was actually able to do a pretty good Irish accent, having spent time in Kerry living with local residents, but was told by the director that he didn’t sound authentic.
The terrible accent he ended up doing – which Ciara describes as “leprechaun-esque” - was a deliberate decision to pander to an American audience with a preconceived notion of what Irish people sound like.
“Some [Irish actors] told me on Twitter that they’d had auditions in the States and were informed that they ‘didn’t sound Irish enough,’” says Ciara. So it doesn’t seem implausible to imagine that something similar could have happened here.
Another thing to consider is that there’s no such thing as one “Irish accent”, a fact that much of the crowing about the trailer ignores. Dornan is from County Down, playing a character with a Cork accent. There’s a a distance of 203 miles between the two regions, which is roughly equivalent to how far London is from Manchester.
It’s fair enough to make fun of an actor being bad at any accent, given that it’s kind of a job requirement to be able to convincingly inhabit a character, but you wouldn’t find it completely ridiculous if an actor from Manchester couldn’t speak in perfect Cockney. Obviously Irish people are entitled to have a good laugh at this, but if you’re English, I’m afraid to say that laughing at this trailer is cultural imperialism.
“I didn’t really have any strong feels on it,” says Matthew, an Irish man based in the UK, “other than the film looks really dated and early-2000s. I actually didn’t think Christopher Walken’s accent was too bad. But it seems like a weird rom-com version of [1990 Irish crime drama] The Field.”
Sean, meanwhile, tells me, “The accents just suck! They just aren’t right!! I don’t know what to say further than that.”
Wild Mountain Thyme is based on a play starring Debra Messing, who also spoke with a comically bad Irish accent, so the film is continuing a proud tradition. Named after an Irish folk song, the story concerns the conflict that arises in an Irish family when the dad threatens to give their farm over to an American nephew, instead of his own son.
There’s also a love story thrown into the mix, with Jamie Dornan and Emily Blunt playing two besotted lovers who are yet to tie the knot, thanks to the Dornan character’s commitment-phobia. The film looks unlikely to go down too well in Ireland (following in the footsteps of the widely-loathed Ireland-set rom-com Leap Year), but American audiences will probably lap it up.