I rolled my eyes when I learned The Edge of Love is about Dylan Thomas. I have no problem with the Welsh bard, but I get nervous when it comes to films about poets. I've never forgotten something Roger Ebert wrote in his review of Gus Van Sant's 2000 film Finding Forrester: "Movies about writers are notoriously hard to do, since writing by its nature is not cinematic."
Director John Maybury certainly strives to jazz up the act of writing as performed by this Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys). Immaculate verse flows effortlessly from the man, who sometimes shouts it out and at other times scribbles it down even as he is engaged in seemingly distracting acts, like lovemaking. This feels false. It could be, for all I know, how Thomas wrote - sometimes when the muse sings, all you can do is scramble to get the words down. But I suspect writing good poetry more often is a deliberate process strongly resembling work.
Maybury uses many flashy techniques in jazzing up this story (set in England, Wales and Greece during World War II) about four young friends: Thomas, his wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller), his old flame Vera (Keira Knightley) and Vera's husband William (Cillian Murphy). The most conspicuous techniques are visual: Bomb-ravaged London and battle-scarred Thessaly appear in grim palettes of gray and brown, and only glimpses of blood and lipstick pulse with color. Disembodied, luminous eyes stare out from the screen. An image of stockinged legs is reflected into infinity.
But all the filigree doesn't really serve this slowly developing plot, about how the four draw close during the blitz, how William is transformed into a brooding, angry man when he fights in Europe, how the two couples are traumatized by a betrayal and an act of violence. Still, there are appealing moments, as when, in air-raid shelters, lovely Knightley croons torch songs for giddy Londoners who dance and revel amid the disaster.
And although they verge on preciousness, I'm moved by the scenes of young Thomas and the others lolling about with their alcohol and poetry. The scenes remind me of a time, not all that long ago (right?), when my young friends and I likewise felt smart and witty, and boozed and flirted. It's not just poets who go through that phase.