The Edge Of Love

The Edge Of Love


Reviewed by: Chris

Can you capture the moment? When first you hear rain on a roof? Or the intake of your lover’s breath? Bring to your mind’s eye the sight of your children in play? Or the glance of a stranger, hastily avoided – or met? Some things are beyond the sum of their parts. Science and words alone, they don’t express the poetry of life, the things that matter.

Dylan Thomas was one of the great poets, a capturer of essence. He knew: “A good poem helps to... extend everyone's knowledge, of himself and the world around him.” Bob Dylan named himself after him. Mick Jagger was similarly obsessed. So why has it taken so long to make a film about the great Dylan Thomas? Is it perhaps that poetry needs to be tangential? To state something too plainly divests it. It can remove the romance and grand metaphor. A simple biopic would let us worship greatness. But writer Sharman Macdonald has taken a different, better approach.

Copy picture

In The Edge Of Love, she creates the world of passions and complexities that fill the poems so we can swim in them. The lives of four friends. There's Dylan (native Welsh-speaker Matthew Rhys), who lusts and loves life to the full. Wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller), his feisty support. War-hero William (Cillian Murphy), who saves him from a street brawl, yet maybe tries to kill him. And his childhood sweetheart, Vera. Dear Vera. She’s Caitlin’s closest friend. William’s wife. And, like a muse, the star in Dylan’s dark sky.

It all kicks off in the 1940 London Blitz, with bomb shelters in the Underground. Enter Vera (an impressive Keira Knightley) under makeshift stage spotlights. A singer raising morale for those at home. Meeting Dylan for the first time again in years, her heart is flushed. Their eyes shine through the smoke of the room with purity of passion last experienced as teenage lovers. Dylan is no sanctified, sanitised poet. It is as if to be master of his vices he must experience them all fully. He hardly breaks his stride as he introduces his wife - mother of his child and love of his life - before continuing to woo Vera with every word and gesture.

The Edge Of Love is a visual treat. The soundtrack leaves you wanting more. The performances possibly the best by these actors in their careers. As a lush love story it hits all the right notes. As an insight into Dylan Thomas and the reality of poetry in all our lives, it is notable. And as a tribute to a great man, it is inspiring.

This is a rare piece of entertainment that breathes integrity. The production has been at pains to project the spirit of Dylan Thomas without compromising historical accuracy too much. The dramatic tension involves a pull between artistic freedom and conventional morality. Audiences looking for an experience based on the latter may be disappointed. And it will play less well to audiences whose boundaries are those of Albert Square.

Sharman Macdonald seemed aware of the headstrong nature of artistic freedom and its limits when she spoke to producer Rebekah Gilbertson (who is also the granddaughter of the real William and Vera). “Think of all the things that you don’t want me to write about,” she said, "because I have to have carte blanche.” For Macdonald, the limit was if she should cause offence to Dylan’s memory. But for many artists, especially men, the limits are those which wife and family could set on them.

A woman is not going to let lofty ideals interfere with practical common sense issues, and will even put her children’s interests before her own (This occasionally happens the other way round, as when towering genius Virginia Woolf refused to let loving Leonard bring her down to earth - in The Hours). What begins as almost a love affair between four people starts to chafe as the strain of living with the artist begins to weigh down on them. Caitlin doubts her devotion to hubby. “You’re not the man I married,” she complains. “Who’s nurturing my bloody talent?” Yet in spite of the tension involving Vera, these two women become closest buddies. This is one of the main (and very beautiful) themes of the film.

Vera’s vision of ideal love takes a battering by the reality of Dylan’s marriage to Caitlin. William is hopelessly naive, and clumsy with words next to Dylan’s prowess. Vera resists him, but two things seem to change her mind. One is ‘not being left out’. Hauntingly lit in blue stage light, she sings, “Maybe I’ll be left with no love at all.” William looks on. Later, she says to her friends, “You have to love someone, these days you do.” She is really in love with Dylan, but eventually it is William who makes her feel ‘real.’ During an emotion-filled moment after a narrow escape from bombing (the pavement is wet with blood), William chances to say something poetic. (He compares a raindrop on her cheek to a tear.) Vera drags him off to an aesthetically pleasing consummation.

The film’s colours tell a story in themselves. In a drab, wartime Britain, Caitlin and Vera are vivid highlights in an ocean of grey. Shortly after meeting Vera’s lit-up-in-lights stage persona, we encounter Caitlin through her searing blue eyes, sparkling in a darkened railway carriage. Her dramatic red coat cuts a dash through streets of colourless homogeneity, triumphing on a beautiful staircase as she reunites with Dylan. But Vera’s lipstick red brightness is less enduring. For her, marriage is second-best, even when she has become possessed with genuine love for her husband.

Outstanding cinematography extends to using montage to juxtapose images, in a manner similar to poetry’s juxtaposition of unrelated words to create further meaning. Horrific war scenes in Thessaly are intercut with the screams of Vera in pregnancy. Is she giving birth, or is it abortion? We are not told immediately. Pain is universal and goes beyond time and place to our present day.

Constant echoes of Dylan’s poetry throughout the film lead us beyond earthly opposites. It reminds me of Marlon Brando reading TS Eliot in Apocalypse Now. A light beyond the horrors of the world. A different way of seeing things. “I’ll take you back to a time when no bombs fell from the sky and no-one died – ever,” says Dylan to Vera as they walk along the beach. Elsewhere, Caitlin recalls childhood with Vera: “We’re still innocent in Dylan,” she says.

There’s a time to leave your knickers at home or share a universal cigarette. (Not literally, perhaps.) A time to be inspired. Enjoy what is possibly the best British film of the year.

Reviewed on: 18 Jun 2008
Share this with others on...
Wartime drama about two women who form an unlikely friendship, united by their feelings for poet Dylan Thomas.
Amazon link

Read more The Edge Of Love reviews:

Dylan Matthew ***
Maria Realf **1/2

Director: John Maybury

Writer: Sharman Macdonald

Starring: Keira Knightley, Cillian Murphy, Sienna Miller, Matthew Rhys, Camilla Rutherford, Alastair Mackenzie

Year: 2008

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


EIFF 2008

Search database: