Heralded by Sirens
by Brody Rossiter
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Poets are not known for their levelheadedness. Not celebrated for their ability to remain grounded and move silently through life. Poets often deal in excess, exploring that which others fear to invite in. Waves of melancholia topped off with potent concoctions of illicit substances have provided a steady diet for generations of wordsmiths, and while words may live forever in print, a life of tragedy often precedes such immortality.
Much of my curiosity regarding The Edge of Love stemmed from vague memories of its high-profile release and the series of poor reviews it received in response to that fleeting yet surprisingly memorable spell in cinemas. Despite being a biopic of Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, set amidst the chaos and tragedy of a United Kingdom battered by the eternal terrors of The Second World War, the picture quickly shifts focus from Thomas and his eloquent delinquency – electing to close-in on his childhood sweetheart, Vera Phillips (Keira Knightley) and long-suffering Irish wife, Caitlin Macnamara (Sienna Miller).
Matthew Rhys (Brothers & Sisters, The Americans) skilfully portrays his fellow Welshman. Thomas is a man forever capable of reaching down into his penniless pockets and producing a crumpled up piece of paper scribbled with thoroughly moving verse, despite often proving to be a loathsome human being. Rhys forever straddles this line between artistic greatness and moral misgiving to create an unforgiving portrait of the doomed poet from beginning to end. However, the star power of British bright young things, Knightley and Miller, proved a temptation too irresistible for influential voices to ignore. Often, behind every great or talented man is an equally great, talented, and inspirational woman – Thomas had two. Nevertheless, Thomas was the man who conjured poetry from his drunken stupors over piss-stained London cobbles, and while the opening sequences of the film clearly present this sense of ownership, depicting Thomas’ lyrical and often selfish acts of puppetry both on and off the page, he slowly becomes a wholly unlikable afterthought shuffling around in the shadows he cast.
Though the emphasis upon the poet grows increasingly faint in favour depicting the relationship between his female counterparts, an emotionally rousing tale remains intact. The robust beauty of Thomas’ poetry is mirrored in The Edge of Love‘s evocative dreamlike aesthetic. London is largely blanketed in shadow and illuminated by the falling fire of artillery. inhabited by drunkards, entertainers, and sequestered soldiers, it is a romantic yet bleak vision of the capital. Later the picture blossoms into a windswept and grey portrait of Dylan and Vera’s Welsh hometown by the sea: a painful regression that also provides the picture’s most unyielding instances heartbreak and betrayal – moments which render the tale’s truth all the more devastating.
Maybe much of The Edge of Love‘s charm is lost in translation; the contrast between UK and American critiques is perhaps the clearest identifier of this. I imagine introducing the unfamiliar to a heavy Welsh accent is jarring. Perhaps such an obtuse vision of wartime Britain, devoid of the jingoistic displays of fighting spirit, is too melancholic for the masses. Maybe if people had known that Twin Peaks’ composer, Angelo Badalamenti, had provided a score of sorrowful strings, or that Cillian Murphy delivered a defiant yet damaged performance showcasing the toil of war, maybe then the film’s many tones would have resonated a little louder and for a little longer.
Before Summer floods our rooms with the comfort and warmth of its yellow haze, journey back to an era in which one man’s words defined the griefs of both wartime Britain and the lives of four lovers who fought beneath skies filled danger and storms summoned by the sea.