The Edge Of Love

Director    John Maybury
Starring    Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Matthew Rhys, Cillian Murphy, Camilla Rutherford
Release    TBC (US) 20 JUN (UK)    Certificate 15
3 stars


15th July 2008

Watching The Edge Of Love is a little like tuning into the BBC on a Sunday evening to find a lavish costume drama. You know, the kind of high-quality frolic that requires approximately half of your attention, leaving the other half free to peruse the Sunday papers at leisure.

This film is essentially an intelligent lit-chick-flick. Floppy-haired Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Rhys) comprises one point in a complex love square, the other corners consisting of Dylan's wife Caitlin (Miller), his childhood sweetheart Vera Phillips (Knightley) and Vera's new beau William Killick (Cillian Murphy). As it becomes increasingly tangled and destructive, eventually the love square must implode. It's not exactly the lesbian romp the tabloids would have you believe, though there is a certain chemistry between Knightley and Miller and it is the friendship between Vera and Caitlin that acts as the focal point of the story. Caitlin craves Vera's friendship, yet simultaneously sees Vera's relationship with Dylan as a threat. Caitlin intentionally keeps her enemies close; she befriends the 'other woman' in a bid to prevent her husband straying.

The Edge Of Love has been responsible for unleashing hordes of women on charity shops throughout the land in search of floral frocks, wellies and woolly jumpers. A transporting period piece, it evokes both war-torn London and rural Wales very effectively, from the costumes to the landscape to the music, and there is enough chain smoking to give the Mad Men a run for their money.

Things do threaten to get a bit too Atonement-y when William heads off to war, leaving Keira once again whispering "come back" across the ocean to her soldier sweetheart. The story loses its way slightly at this point and Cillian Murphy is left to make the best of a poorly-developed war trauma storyline. You can almost imagine the director's thought process: "Now, how can we depict the horrors of war on a limited budget and without devoting too much narrative time to it? I know, we'll hack a man's arm off, ticking the obligatory 'gore' box, making for a nice bloody flashback sequence later on. Job done, let's get down the pub!" The aforementioned arm-hacking takes place in a gruesome scene completely lacking in context. Thankfully, the tension between draft-dodging Dylan and returning war hero William fleshes the second half of the film out nicely.

The Edge Of Love does not paint Dylan Thomas in a particularly positive light. He is manipulative, cowardly and occasionally cruel. His wife Caitlin is vivacious, volatile and tangible, whereas Vera is otherworldly, a star in the night sky. Thomas cannot be without either woman, nor can he fully commit to one or the other. Sienna Miller's debauchery steals the show and the turbulent relationship between Caitlin and Dylan provides the lightest, but also some of the darkest, moments in the movie. Knightley switches from her usual English rose to become a Welsh rose with a passable accent, a welcome relief from her usual plumminess.

Instead of going for a straight literary biopic about Dylan Thomas, director John Maybury places the poet at the centre of the film as a catalyst rather than a protagonist. Though there may not be enough poetry woven into the narrative to keep Thomas fans happy, it is to Maybury's credit that he resists depicting Thomas as a bohemian romantic hero, though how much truth there is in the premise of the film is hard to determine. There are some shaky moments, including a couple of peculiar cameos from Suggs and Lisa Stansfield, but on the whole the film succeeds in being a transporting flight of fancy. Anna

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