Seldom has the noble poet been portrayed prominently on the silver screen, much less a famous poet and even much more less an eccentric famous poet like the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who was just as well known for his haunting poems and melodic speaking voice than for his alcoholic tendencies (one of his quotes was, “An alcoholic is someone you don’t like who drinks as much as you do”… which I’m totally borrowing from now on). While Edge of Love certainly has Thomas at the center, a loose adaptation of actual events, it is by no means your standard biopic, or even a standard drama.
There are quite a few things interesting about the film that aren’t necessarily related to its content. For one, it brings Dylan Thomas, one of the most acclaimed poets of all-time, to the silver screen, and delves into an aspect of his life that isn’t well-known at all – the bizarre relationship that forms between Thomas (Matthew Rhys), his childhood fling Vera (Keira Knightley) and his wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller), and, later, Vera’s new fling William (Cillian Murphy). While I was never much of a poet in the mandatory poetry class I had to take to fulfill my English minor, Thomas’ poems were amongst the few that I actually enjoyed and it’s nice to see him portrayed – for better or worse – on the silver screen. Another unusual aspect is that the film’s screenwriter, Sharman McDonald, is actually Keira Knightley’s mother, and this is her first produced screenplay in 11 years. And lastly and perhaps most bizarrely, Lindsay Lohan was actually set to portray Caitlin (remember when she wanted to/still wants to be a “serious actress”?) until she dropped out right before filming due to scheduling conflicts. Darn… It should be noted as well that Lohan, while talking about the film in an interview, said there was a “lesbian undertone” between Caitlin and Vera. While that really isn’t the case (McDonald confirmed in another interview), Lohan certainly won’t be the only one that is at least a tad confused by this film.
The film’s major downside is it’s pretty damn hard to follow, at least to start. Screenwriter Sharman McDonald seems to write as if the viewer is also reading the screenplay at the same time, and we can see the constant shifts in location on the page. The film starts out in London, in an underground safe-house/lounge (think Rick’s Café Americain... but in London… and underground with bombs going off outside) but later we just hop on over to Wales, with the only clue as a simple line from Vera that she’d like to be back in Wales and poof, we’re there. That’s only one example of the terribly shoddy transitions McDonald doesn’t employ throughout the film, almost as if it’s too much of a conformist sort of move to have them. The film is also hard to follow because of the thick British/Welsh dialects that appear to be rather authentic, and do sound lovely and all… but they don’t do us any favors when it comes to actually understanding what is said most of the time.
McDonald and director John Maybury, who’s last film, The Jacket, is so preposterously different from this I’m rather amazed, do a fabulous job of pacing the film, however, with a slow, methodical, almost literary book-like pace, where the one who pays the closest attention is rewarded properly at the end. It doesn’t even feel like a movie, in the sense that you aren’t whisked through this world at a high-octane pace, but you’re casually going for a little stroll in this world at a storybook pace, and one that will take you to places you surely won’t expect by the final chapter. And, to top it all off, we’re treated to tiny tidbits of some of Thomas’ beautiful poetry sprinkled throughout the story, lending even more weight to the hefty film.
Here we’re introduced to Vera, a songstress who happens to bump into her first childhood love, the now-famous poet Dylan Thomas and starts to fall in love with him all over again… until she meets his wife Caitlin. Strangely enough, she forms a unique bond of friendship with the quirky Caitlin, played to absolute perfection by Sienna Miller, although she still kind of loves Thomas, played magnificently by Matthew Rhys, and has a charming new beau in William Killick, which is Cillian Murphy’s most complete, thorough and magnificent performances to date. Despite the lost-in-translation feel you get from these dialects at times, you’re completely drawn to this odd little foursome and their trials and tribulations – like when Caitlin must get an abortion due to infidelity, or the problems Vera faces when William, her husband by now, is sent off to war… while she is pregnant. Maybury’s deft direction of this talented foursome is highlighted even more by his picturesque capturing of locations like the lush countryside of Wales or the seedy back-alleys of war-torn London. Maybury’s visual style is definitely a force to be reckoned with here, and I’m truly looking forward to seeing what he will tackle next.
The Edge of Love is a sublime character study of love, and how these four vastly different characters seek out and define it in vastly different ways. It’s a poignant, beautiful film – albeit one that isn’t the easiest to follow – that might not bring you to the edge of your seat, but has an edge up on pacing, performances and visual style.