Exclusive Interview: Kevin Allen Talks Under Milk Wood

Kevin AllenToday we welcome director Kevin Allen to the site to talk about his latest film Under Milk Wood starring Charlotte Church and Rhys Ifans. In this spirited interview Kevin talks about his approach to Dylan Thomas’ classic radio play, gives his thoughts on the Richard Burton version and discusses how there film has been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Here’s our interview…


First, do you want to just say a little bit about how you came to direct a film version of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood?

I gave up farming in Ireland and was looking for something Welsh and iconic to get stuck into upon relocating back to Wales. The Dylan Thomas 100th Anniversary was looming and it seemed like the perfect thing to have a crack at.

Thomas wrote the original for radio. Did you find the lack of visual cues daunting, or freeing?

Dylan Thomas delivered it to the BBC labelled as ‘something for voices, perhaps?’ and the BBC called it ‘A play for voices’. Thomas desperately wanted money at the time and I’m sure he would have been happy if they called a pair of boiled underpants for the transistor. This amazing piece of literature suffers so much from all this ‘it should ONLY be a play for voices’ rubbish… who cares? If the little Welsh weeble had lived longer he would have engaged it with TV, film etc… without a doubt. It’s not strictly a play of any kind because it’s such a narrative anomaly, a strange fusion of poetry & prose… it’s all over the place. I nearly choked on my heroin this morning reading some review gibberish referring to a ‘protagonist’. There isn’t a protagonist, it’s a fucking dreamscape…

The best-known adaptation of the play is Richard Burton’s film version. Did you find yourself looking at it at all? Even just to know what not to repeat?

The original is of its time and generation. The idiotic casting of Elizabeth Taylor in 1972 is exactly that. Although Burton’s delivery rightfully takes its place in UMW history, it’s as viscerally Welsh as a halfwit Toby jug made is Stratford Upon Avon. Bless them though for giving it a jiggle. I did TRY and watch the BBC one last year but it’s a limp wrist’d postmodern train wreck, and so obsessed with the most banal Welsh celebrity casting. I stopped watching when Katherine Jenkins came on as Polly Garter. Then wretched.

under-milk-wood-xlargeIn bringing your version of Thomas’ original to the screen, what in particular did you want to highlight in the text?

The longing, the love, the fun, the sex, bringing truth and soul and hwyl to the language.

What do you think the cinematic medium lends the play that radio cannot?

Pictures.

The film features some recognisable Welsh faces – Rhys Ifans, Charlotte Church – was that a key concern in casting? Was there anyone you were disappointed not to get? 

No. I had to have a completely bilingual cast because of delivering two versions. I am very proud of making a film where, apart from Rhys and Charlotte, the audience can enjoy a largely unknown ensemble, which generally makes for a much less distracting viewing experience.

You’ve acted yourself. Did you ever consider taking a rôle here?

I did… and played the Cowboy in the bar (purely for budgetary reasons ) and it was just about the first scene to hit the cutting room floor.

The nature of the text means that the visuals, and most of the dialogue, are not carrying the story here as they usually would be. Was that a challenge for your actors?

Not really a big deal for actors as it’s a collection of larger than life, highly animated vignettes, as the prose scenes deliver in the original text. But it’s also a very odd, unorthodox narrative structure. We’re so conditioned by the 3 act classic structure but it was so refreshing and fun to fuck about with its narrative dynamics without getting wrapped across the knuckles by some thick studio exec obsessed with plot points, story arcs and all that boring shite.

UMW StillUnder Milk Wood has just been submitted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Can you tell us a bit about that process of submission? What was it like making the film in both English and Welsh? 

Two versions was not problematic in this case. So much of it is in voice over and I didn’t cross shoot so it was all fairly straightforward. No idea about the Oscar nonsense. Bafta just told us and we now have to wait to see if we make the final nomination list. I think the whole process basically depends on having to brownnose academy members and offer sexual favours, Rolex watches etc. I may even slice off little bits of my soul and send them to Hollywood by post. I’m joking, of course.


Under Milk Wood was released in UK cinemas on the 30th October. Are you planning on seeing it? Let us know in the comment box below!

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