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Planning to hate-watch Lindsay Lohan’s Irish Wish? Micksploitation addicts should prepare for disappointment

Donald Clarke: Nothing sets the Irish cultural G-spot throbbing more vigorously than bad accents and offensive stereotyping

My name is Donald Clarke and I am a begorraholic.

Let me temper that. I am a recovering begorraholic. It is St Patty’s weekend (see what I did there?) and the nation is again getting aggrieved at American representation of the fair Emerald Isle (I did it again). Exhibit A is a harmless romantic comedy called Irish Wish. You could sense the fervour when news emerged that Lindsay Lohan was to play a young woman who, after an encounter with St Brigid, magically changes places with the bride-to-be at a wedding in the west of Ireland. The poster provoked juddering. The first trailer sent the nation’s social media into a hysterical flutter. This year’s recreational outrage was sorted.

Irish Wish is on Netflix. Addicts of Micksploitation should prepare for a grave disappointment. There really isn’t much to be furious about. Lohan’s character says that a day at the Cliffs of Moher makes her feel as if she’d “stepped into a James Joyce novel”. Not an obvious leap. But not deranged either. She gets an old-fashioned coach from Knock Airport to a version of Westport. No cause for hyperventilation there. Our addiction to bad Irish accents will find few fixes. Dawn Bradfield, a fine local actor, retains dignity in the silly, but not offensive, role of Brigid. Most of the groom’s family code (to use the now preferred verb) Big House Protestant (though a Catholic priest performs the rites). Irish Wish, essentially, boats in the same waters as those endlessly cheesy Christmas films that have taken over streamers in the past few years. Shift it back a few months and it could be called, as many films already have been, A Christmas Wish.

Nothing sets our cultural G-spot throbbing more vigorously than bad accents, irrational geography, offensive stereotyping and waves of shrieking flutes over sawing fiddles. Film critics know this. Your takedown of (deep breath) A Prayer for the Dying, PS I Love You, Laws of Attraction, Leap Year or Wild Mountain Thyme has a better chance of attracting eyes than an exclusive with the unexpectedly risen Marlon Brando. The furore around Wild Mountain Thyme, in particular, was deafening. The trailer attracted such a flurry of anticipatory rants – by opportunists such as this writer – that the Guardian ran a story headlined “Wild Mountain Thyme trailer blamed for Irish accent emergency”. I was quoted (though I thought the accents weren’t that bad). So were the National Leprechaun Museum, the Irish Embassy in Washington, DC, and Dublin Airport. When the film opened, a full five months later, the brouhaha started up again.


“If you try to get the Irish to love you, no good will come of it,” John Patrick Shanley, the writer and director of Wild Mountain Thyme, said of the response in Ireland. “You bring up The Quiet Man to people there and it’s like ‘Jesus Christ, it’s an abomination.’” I thought of a line in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. “The rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers,” Alvy Singer says. “I think of us that way sometimes, and I live here.” John Patrick Shanley is right about us. He’s right about me. We love nothing more than getting furious about these things. The jocular tone can’t fully conceal the desperation to take offence. It is better if the Brits are “at it”. But the Americans will do.

There is an obvious comparison with the now positively indecent desire for the British to claim Irish actors for their own during awards season. This year, for most of the period, we had to settle for an (at worst) ambiguous “our” attached to Barry Keoghan in GQ magazine. Jonathan Ross finally obliged with an apparent claim on Cillian Murphy during the ITV Oscar broadcast. Space precludes listing the cyclone of online headers. The sense of relief from the Clickbait Argos was palpable.

Don’t get me wrong. It is obviously annoying when British commentators corral a Saoirse or a Colin. The simple-minded stereotyping of Irish mores in popular entertainment remains as baffling as it is irksome. But there is something embarrassing about the relish with which we anticipate these relatively minor misdemeanours. Look at the absurd online babble that greeted a BBC tweet – mindful of Daniel Day-Lewis’s achievements as an Irish citizen – referring to Murphy as the first “Irish-born” winner of the best-actor Oscar. “Now look here,” the argument went. “They aren’t exactly saying Cillian is British, but they are up to something.”

It is safe to categorise all this as a classic postcolonial anxiety. A century after independence we remain a tad sensitive about how we are represented. Nothing terribly wrong with that. But don’t let it become a fixation.