David Woolley, of the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea, reviews The Edge of Love the new film about the legendary Welsh poet, starring Matthew Rhys, Sienna Miller and Keira Knightley.
Matthew Rhys plays Dylan and Sienna Miller his wife Caitlin
In the wrong hands, this 'Dylan Thomas' biopic could have been a disaster.
The myth of the great, drunken Welsh bard has been covered by a million words and numerous documentaries over the fifty-plus years since his early death at the age of 39, but only a worthy TV film from the 70s has tried to portray Thomas on screen.
But with a well-rounded script, confident direction, stunning cinematography and top-drawer ensemble playing, The Edge of Love is a triumph.
None of those documentaries has ever got under Dylan's "robe of skin" properly; a pity, because the story of the poet and his tempestuous relationship with wife Caitlin is one of the twentieth century's great love stories.
A man of huge paradox - the home-loving Welsh-baiter, the womaniser with a vast love for his wife, the drunk who could nurse a pint all night - this apocalyptic genius of a writer is well captured in Sharman Macdonald's perceptive and lyrical script, and brilliantly brought to life by Matthew Rhys's superb performance.
His Dylan reflects all the wit, wisdom, machismo, grumpiness and vulnerability of the real man.
Yet his performance in no way overshadows those of the other principal players.
Sold by the marketing boys as a steamy menage a trois romp, this film is much more than that.
The vibrant filmwork, with myriad huge close-ups of the stars is never compromised by their combined beauty, and the gritty reality of war-time London looms as large.
With a by-turns lush and pounding sound-track, life lived on the edge in that horrendous, super-charged time is thrillingly rendered.
The 'facts', such as they are, at the heart of this story, mean less than the sum of the film's parts.
Ambitious, intelligent and seldom heavy-handed, John Maybury's direction allows the grand themes of love, friendship and genius, the horrors of war and its aftermaths, to float along on an uneasy, queasy sea of booze, sex and sudden violence.
Keira Knightley plays Dylan Thomas's childhood sweetheart Vera Killick
The film moves from war-ravaged yet still faintly glamorous London to the stark rural splendour of the Cardiganshire coast, as Dylan, Caitlin and their friend Vera escape the capital with young children in tow, while Vera's new soldier husband William Killick returns behind enemy lines.
There is genuine physical and emotional tension between the three, as Dylan's wife and his childhood sweetheart become very close.
Sienna Miller and Keira Knightley have never been better, and Miller's portrayal of the complex Caitlin is especially impressive.
Mrs Thomas was apparently a difficult, wilful, disappointed woman, with a sexual "itch" she just had to "scratch" and a capacity for the booze that left Dylan floundering.
Miller gives the character a depth never explored in words or performance before, except perhaps for Phil Bowen's haunting one-woman show The Same Boat.
Miller's slim, ethereal beauty seems much heavier and more earth-bound here, and her Caitlin is sulky and sultry, yet alive and exhilarating.
Playing up to this standard are Keira Knightley, who shows here she's much more than just a pretty face, and Cillian Murphy.
Knightley's charged scenes with all three of the others are utterly convincing, as is Murphy's change from carefree soldier in love to traumatised war hero.
My only gripes with the film are a few rather unnecessary grainy slo-mos, and some quibbles with factual accuracies.
Dylan's statement in court when Killick is tried for shooting up the Thomas's bungalow, portrays the poet in an unfair and inaccurate light, and the substitution of the Thomas's son Llewelyn for daughter Aeronwy is perplexing.
Overall though, this is as good a film as any Dylanaphile could have wished for.
The man and his story are legion and legend, and there are many fine films that could be made about him. This is certainly one of them.
The Edge Of Love is premiered in London on 19 June and opens across the UK from 27 June.