Quick, name three Welsh people. If you answered Rhys Ifans, Charlotte Church and Dylan Thomas then well done, quick thinking – someone here had the same thought and brought them together to star in a new film version of Dylan Thomas’ famous radio play, Under Milk Wood.The village is asleep. Only Rhys Ifans is up:
“To begin at the beginning:
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea.
The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds.
And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.”
Well, he puts it better than I do. But I must admit that I’m not really a fan of the way he deivers Thomas’ prose poetry, all reverence and hush but no real feel for the material, which is shiveringly beautiful, yes; but also by turns tragic, and earthy, and even at times a little bit silly. It doesn’t demand the sexless characterless approach it’s given here, especially when the press release for the picture sells it partially on the basis of its supposed eroticism.
That’s not to say that the picture throws away the sex angle, but to describe the sort of prim British wackiness that goes on here as eroticism is like referring to what The Three Stooges engage in as hardcore violence. The picture is tediously, forcedly surreal, and while it’s nice to have a new angle on the piece – the press release also brags about how this interpretation “veers away from the traditional, literal reflection of Thomas’ original work” – it just feels difficult buying into the soft-focus, loud/quiet/loud, music-video candy world imagined here. That’s not to say that there aren’t some striking images, but those striking images are consistently the ones that fit the least with the artificial aesthetic this version favours, and go back to precisely the moonlit feel director Kevin Allen seems to be working so hard to distance himself from.
Fans of the original work, or of the previous Richard Burton film, or indeed of any one of the many interpretations that have emerged down the years, may get a kick out of seeing what here is new and supposedly radical, but those new to Under Milk Wood are advised to avoid this as a starting point.
Under Milk Wood is released in UK cinemas today (30th October)! Will you be seeing it? Let us know in the comment box below!