July 4th, 2008 13:05 EST
The Edge of Love Film Review
With Thanks to The Odeon, Worcester
In her book "Double Drink Story", Dylan Thomas`s wife Caitlin said of her relationship with the poet "Ours was not a love story, it was a drink story."
The reputation of the late, great tempestuous Welsh Bard goes before him, making the poet himself (as Caitlin observed) more famous than his work. His wild bohemian life, and in particular the relationship he had here on the screen between his wife and a nightclub singer, is the subject of "The Edge of Love".
Based (loosely) on real people and events in his life, the film focuses on the chance meeting of Thomas and a childhood sweetheart, thrown together in London during the Blitz in 1940. A passion for her is well and truly rekindled in the poet, and blocked, with understandable possessiveness, by his wild hearted wife, who arrives shortly afterwards. Feeling himself rather the focus of attention of the affections of both women, Dylan then spends a delightful period feeling like the cat that got the cream!
This is only spoilt when Vera the singer, (played by Kiera Knightly), falls in love with a dashingly romantic Army Captain? and an eternal triangle develops, which does not go well with any of them?.
A well cast movie, and a window into time, The Edge of Love picks up a formidable gauntlet: Portraying such a legendary figure in our culture as Dylan Thomas on film, in a warts and all performance, which has to be seen as daring. Like George Gershwin or Groucho Marx, this living breathing man, who liked a pint, shaved in the morning, and groaned like all of us when the alarm clock went off, has become the stuff of myth. He lived, he breathed, he struggled to pay the rent and he carried an umbrella, and now he is a colossus. A formidable challenge for any film maker, and any attempt in my view is to be commended.
Thomas was also a man who had a highly characteristic appearance, very distinctive, and it would be a challenge and a half for any casting agent to find a true double. This being said, Matthew Rhys, who bares a pretty fair resemblance to Dylan, takes on the mantle with a highly believable air of conviction. He brings the part to life, in down at heel passionate grandeur. The strolling (and at times reeling) Bard is believable as man, with all his mischief, lascivious charm, and artistic mission. Fag smoking, unendingly unfaithful, drink soaked, and utterly and completely charming, this is a performance of understated excellence and sharply observed understanding.
Rhys is an actor of subtle intelligence, and he gives a good introduction to Dylan the man. No mean feat.
If anything, the film downplays the actual wildness of his life. Together Dylan and his wife Caitlin were a true force of nature, equally so apart, but doubly so as husband and wife. Passionately dedicated drinkers, they started early in the morning and went at it all day with a missionary zeal, which would ultimately have fatal consequences famously for the poet in 1953. Like another seething furnace of Welsh creativity, Richard Burton, Dylan`s inner fire required a lot of fuel, and it went down his neck fast in many a pub. He and Caitlin were pretty much equal in strength, and they would fight like cat and dog, (Caitlin described herself as a fighting Irish Drunk). They were pretty much skint and dirty most of the time, scrounging somewhere to sleep and charming drink out of all and sundry, and both believed that if you were to create the really hot divinely inspired stuff creatively, you had to crawl through the dregs in life. Hinted at, touched on suggestively, the film tackles these aspects of their lives, but the movie is not an out and out biopic so I suppose it really is a case of art imitating life: Undoubtedly there is another film in a closer depiction of the story of Dylan and Caitlin themselves.
The Edge of Love is a gorgeously shot period film, with a firm storyline in the friendship between Caitlin and Vera, the singer, and it is to be honest the girls film. Although both intimately bound up with the life of Dylan, it shows how the two extremely independent women cope with the gravitational pull of genius.
Both of the girls put in the performance of a lifetime. Sienna Miller is remarkable as Dylan`s wife Caitlin. A truly untamed spirit, a wild hearted Irish woman with an unquenchable thirst for life, she conveys the passionate attachment she had to her husband, while clearly showing how overshadowed and frustrated she felt with her own career as a dancer. Driven to serial flings by Dylan`s infidelity, drinking to try and outdo him, and forced to make dresses from curtains by their poverty st[r]icken Bohemian life, she really brings across the undaunted lust for existence which was so much a part of this remarkable woman. I would have though she would have had a stronger Irish accent, but considering the fierce performance she gives that is a minor point.
Kiera Knightly should not be allowed to use a Welsh accent, unless any men with Celtic Blood be warned to have a quick cold shower before she speaks. Using a light hint of the Welsh, Kiera is very convincing indeed, and with her flashing dark eyes could be quite easily believed to have come from Wales. Not a bad achievement for an actress renowned for her cut-glass English voice. She is transformed elegantly into a nightclub singer, performing to the crowds sheltering from the Blitz, and proves herself to have a very creditable singing voice. Conveying the yearning innocence of Dylan`s teenage love, and the guilt-wracked desire of a frightened young wife whose husband is away at the front, this is a benchmark performance for Kiera, and more than proof that she is destined for greater things than Pirates of the Caribbean.
Irish Born Cillian Murphy more than equates himself as the upstanding Captain William Killick, quietly and genuinely besotted by Vera as she sings to the refugees. The honest love of the soldier for this girl and his awkward relationship with the hugely unconventional Dylan is carefully observed. The tension mounts steadily, as he begins to suspect Vera of infidelity, and boils to a near fatal climax which splits the two couples apart forever.
Most of this is due to Dylan`s mischief and outright jealousy. But aren`t all artists flawed, one way or another? (I speak from personal experience as one myself!) Would we have had "Under Milk Wood" if he had not lived such a life? Of course no-one can say, but we know that Dylan lived as he chose to.
I was privileged to know a magnificent Welsh poet called Ollie Rhys Palmer in the last year of his life, (and I passionately urge you to look up his work!) One night he recited some of his poetry whilst I was there, and in a voice like mist rolling down across the mountains he told of his youthful adventures in an old green van. It was captivating, and I think you have to remember that a talent like that, pouring words out of a man like Dylan, would have exorcised a multitude of sins. And his work remains, long after he has gone.
The Edge of love looks into the complex loves of a complicated man, but if anything his women were giants too.
(This review is dedicated to my Grandfather, Walter Vivian Rees)
Please Note that the costumes and script from the film are on display at The Dylan Thomas Centre, in Swansea in Wales, until September.
The link for the Centre is:http://www.dylanthomas.com/index.cfm?articleid=7564
The Dylan Thomas Home Page is as follows: http://www.dylanthomas.com/