Deborah Ross

Four play | 18 June 2008

<strong>The Edge of Love</strong><br /> <em>15, Nationwide</em>

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The Edge of Love

15, Nationwide

The Edge of Love, which is based loosely on real events, explores the ménage à quatre that existed for a few years between the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys), his wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller), his childhood friend Vera Phillips (Keira Knightley) and her eventual husband, William Killick (Cillian Murphy), and if all these people were exactly as portrayed in this film, then so be it but, boy, are they tiresome. If you ever went out to dinner with the Thomases and the Killicks you would say afterwards, ‘I’m sorry, my dear, but what a bore. Did you notice, by dessert, I’d begun to snore?’ (Look, I’m a poet, too! And you know what? It’s not so hard!) Perhaps if the film had managed to generate any kind of warmth or sympathy, it would be different, but it doesn’t and so it isn’t. There even comes a point about halfway through when you’ll wish they’d all go gentle into the good night, or, if not gentle, then any way they so fancy so long as they go right now. They could go by bike into the good night. (And there I go again! I can even do half-rhymes! It must be a natural gift!)

It opens in wartime London during the Blitz, with Keira as Vera singing to Londoners sheltering in the Tube. Vera is a chanteuse (yes, Keira sings!; thinly!). The very first shot is the whole screen filled with her extravagantly glossy, red-lipsticked mouth, moving lingeringly and sexily in song, and from then on the camera will not leave her alone; sucks at her face as if it were a plunger and she were a blocked drain. The camera is more in love with Keira than either Dylan or William ever appear to be. It’s close-up after close-up after close-up and then, just to not change the pace a little, it’s another close-up. On the whole, this is less a ménage à quatre, and more a ménage à une; the other trois having been somewhat pushed aside. This is a shame as Rhys’s Dylan, whom he plays as a selfish bounder and man-child who wants to have his cake and greedily wolf it, has to take a back seat (as does Dylan’s poetry but that’s OK. This is not a biopic, remember).

Anyway, Vera, who had known Dylan as a teenager, bumps into him in a London pub and the two reconnect, even though Dylan is now married to Caitlin and Vera is being wooed by William, a captain in the army. When William goes off to war, the remaining three move to Wales where they continue to discuss endlessly what they mean to each other, sometimes while in the bath and sometimes not. The three experience war, marriage, parenthood, betrayal, abortion and poverty, and still only endlessly discuss what they mean to each other, sometimes while in the bath and sometimes not. I bet they wished they’d had a telly, and that Big Brother was on. I know I do.

What does the film want to be? Here is what, I think, the film wants to be. Ignoring the literary aspects for a minute, it wants to be about a man in love with two women — ‘bohemian’ and ‘free-spirited’ women, needless to say — who, in turn, form an intense friendship which threatens to push them all over the edge; the edge of love. Fair enough, but the love is never felt and neither is any intensity. They could all be shopping in Debenhams. The director, John Maybury, takes an entirely static approach, and the characters are also entirely static, refusing to grow up no matter what. Sienna Miller — who is probably most famous for being pictured in Heat getting in and out of cars — just doesn’t cut it, with an accent that, I think, is meant to be Welsh but comes out as a weird Irish–Cockney. And as for Keira, well. Look, I don’t want to pick on Keira but there is one scene, when William is due back from war, and she is looking in the mirror, willing herself to look as glamorous as she did before he went away, and Keira doesn’t do it, can’t do it. She stands there as empty as anything, as if she were in a perfume ad. There are beautiful women who happen to be actresses and there are actresses, and while each have their place, sometimes you need an actress. Anne-Marie Duff. She’d have done it.

Written by the playwright Sharman Macdonald (who also happens to be Keira’s mum) and produced by Rebekah Gilbertson (the actual granddaughter of William and Vera) the whole thing has come out as a muddle, and a cold-hearted, alienating muddle at that. If this is the life of literary people, then the literary people can keep it. And that’s it for now, so toodle-oo and ciao (there I go again! I’m so talented it’s just not true).