Going Gently

The tangled life of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas is told through the lives of the two women who loved him in Love Is The Devil director John Maybury’s artful, awkward The Edge of Love.

Opening during the Blitz in a tube station, we first meet the beautiful Vera Phillips (Keira Knightly) as she sings an uplifting song to the huddled Londoners. Watching her is a soldier, William Killick (Cillian Murphy), who trails her to a nearby pub when the all clear is sounded. There, Vera has meet her lifelong friend the poet Dylan Thomas, in the city to work on a propaganda documentary. Propping up the bar with the tempestuous writer is his wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller), and soon all four are joined in a squared-off relationship, Killick and Thomas butting heads over Vera’s affections while she and Caitlin strike up a thorny friendship, clouded with elements of jealously and rivalry. Before he is sent overseas, Killick and Vera marry and she returns with Thomas and Caitlin to a seaside town in Wales to wait for his return. There, away from the world, the competition between the two women becomes more irrational and intense.

As the twinned objects of the poet’s affections, Miller and Knightly give fine, nuanced performances, in turn delicate and boisterous. Miller in particular is a revelation as the fiery, feisty Caitlin, brilliantly evoking the pain of living with genius, made even more anxious by the imminent prospect of death and ruin in wartime. Knightly as her rival and best friend plays Vera in much the same way as she did her lead in Atonement, her practical façade cracking under heartfelt emotional pressures. Their relationship is the heart of the film, and both prove worthy of the assignment.

Although he looks the part, Rhys cannot find the power in his voice to match the poet’s words, unable to match the rolling, tumbling intonation of the poet, a disappointment given that Thomas recorded much of his work on tape. His recitation in voice-over of one of Thomas’ best known poems, Lament (“When I was a windy boy and a bit…”) is weak and flat. Worse than that, the actor gives such a dislikeable performance, full of actorly tics and goggle-eyed mooning, that he never gives us any reason to believe that two women would have fallen so deeply in love with him. His lechery seems half-hearted, his alcoholism and depravity an overly careful, measured descent. Murphy, as the damaged soldier Killick, gives a far more interesting performance, full of bravado and wit but the war absents him for long sections, returning him in a shell-shocked trance as a remote, jealous misfit. Pushed by his own demons into an act of desperation, Murphy brilliantly evokes the man’s panic and fear but the constantly self-referencing script noticeably deflates his performance, repeatedly underlining emotions the actor is well able to communicate himself the first time.

Despite being flawed in its execution dramatically muddled and jumpy in tone, The Edge of Love is a well mounted and, for the most part, well acted drama about fascinating people in extraordinary circumstances. It tries very hard to distil these freewheeling characters into easily digestible nuggets of information, but Maybury cannot give them their required force, leaving us still waiting for the definitive film about Dylan Thomas.


Pacze Moj said...


Is that a [Bob] Dylan reference?


MJ said...

I look forward to seeing this one! Missed your Today FM's while on hols and found your blog as a result. It's great!