Dir. John Maybury.UK. 2008. 112 mins.
A movie about the poet Dylan Thomas and his hell raising wife Caitlin would seem to herald booze, sex, fighting, dubious personal hygiene,Wales, and the always-chall enging task of reciting poetry onscreen in a way that is meaningful. The Edge Of Love certainly tackles all the above. In the process, though, it pushes Dylan and Caitlin to the background while a peripheral character in their lives played by Keira Knightley hogs centre stage. Although always watchable, the film suffers as a result.
The Edge Of Love marks a turning point in Sienna Miller’s career; as Caitlin, she is the best thing in it and warm notices should see her finally ditch the ingenue roles she clearly was never suited to. But Miller isn’t enough to save The Edge of Love from veering too close to vanity territory. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a film written by Keira Knightley’s mother, this wartime drama is unbalanced in the actress’s favour. Director John Maybury shoots it straight - this has no art pretensions a la TomAnd Viv, or Henry & June - and straight at Knightley’s face for far too long.
The Edge of Love should drum up decent business in the UK, helped by the press-friendly pairing of Knightley - who might consider moving out of period dramas - with Miller. It may play to the Atonement crowd, or those who feel the need for an annual Atonement. With great period recreations and Blitz-era atmosphere, it’s a classy, slightly plodding Brit project which will find takers without ever causing too much excitement. Ancillary should be solid.
The Edge of Love is based loosely around the real-life relationship between Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys), Caitlin, his childhood friend and lover Vera Phillips (Knightley) and her husband William Killick (Cillian Murphy) - producer Rebekah Gilbertson’s grandparents. In London during the Blitz, Vera sings at great length in Underground stations, reconnects with Thomas, now working for the BBC, meets and forms a close friendship with Caitlin, while romancing Captain Killick (Murphy). Unsurprisingly, much of the action takes place in smoky bars until the Thomases and Vera relocate to cottages perched on a muddy cliffside in Wales, financed unknowingly by Killick as he returns to the front.
It’s a love square, with some pretty unsympathetic corners. Most notably in this film, and largely thanks to Miller (a late replacement for Lindsay Lohan), the oft-maligned Caitlin is warm and likable, easy to understand - when in reality, she was anything but. As Thomas, Rhys does convey an impish charm and he gets the voice right, but he’s short-changed by the constraints of so much time devoted to the film’s female leads. As they’re only of interest because of him, this distorts the picture somewhat. He also has to deliver lines like ‘I sleep with other women because I’m a poet’.
In a film which revolves around Thomas’s sexual partners, Murphy is barely allowed to make an impression.It’s left to Knightley to shoulder much of the film, in what seems like a decent Welsh accent. Her face is beautiful, and beautifully shot, but her talent is too fragile to withstand the pressure and one is left longing for less of Vera and more of Thomas and Caitlin. Ultimately, Maybury fails to make a winning case for viewing the poet and his fiery wife through the prism of two fairly unremarkable people.
The Edge of Love does deliver an upscale British period drama for the many fans of that genre. Above all else though, it whets the appetite for another look at Dylan Thomas and his wife, a prospect which previously seemed dauntingly difficult for a film-maker to tackle.
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