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The Edge of Love (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 110 minutes.

Not for children.

I go to virtually any movie in which Sienna Miller is cast because she is one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the silver screen. Who would have guessed that she can actually act?

Well, act she does in this story loosely based on the relationship of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys) and two women, his tempestuous wife Caitlin (Miller) and his childhood friend and lover, Vera Phillips (Keira Knightley). In case youíre wondering, the real Caitlin, although a sexual athlete, bore little physical resemblance to Miller. While in this film she is an amoral, unfaithful spouse to her husband, it only scratches the surface in describing what a barbarian she really was.

Apparently her father abandoned the family. The artist Augustus John became a surrogate father and had an affair with Caitlin when she was 15. After that she became terminally promiscuous. Itís been alleged that she had sex with 12 Irish laborers, one after the other, in a pub.

As to Vera, I have no idea what she actually looked like. According to the film, Vera and Dylan had sex when she was 15. When we meet them, they are running into each other again, 10 years later, although Dylan is married by that time. Dylan still has feelings for Vera and vice-versa.

Vera marries William Killick (Cillian Murphy) and he is called to war. According to the movie, Dylan, Caitlin, and Vera lived in adjoining cottages in Wales while Killick, who became a captain, was off at war. There are a lot of frank discussions among Dylan, Caitlin and Vera, but mostly between Vera and Caitlin because Dylan was off drinking. Emotions are rubbed raw.

Although filled with meandering talk, itís not a bad film. What I criticize is its lack of devotion to facts and truth. I think that when filmmakers are using the names of real people, and real events that occurred in their lives, they have an obligation to tell it like it was. Viewers will see their films and walk away with a completely jaundiced view of historical characters if the filmmakers use literary license to invent things that never were. If they want to use someoneís real story as a basis for a fictionalized telling, then they should fictionalize it and change the names. Thatís what Harold Robbins did in ďThe Carpetbaggers.Ē Everyone knew it was based on the life of Howard Hughes, but Robbins invented so many things that he changed every name. So it was up to his readers to make the judgment that what they were reading was really what Howard did or not.

But when, as here, the filmmakers use real names, locations, and events and then add things that are substantive but historically inaccurate, people walk away thinking they know something about Dylan Thomasís life, when they really donít. And whatís worse is that they will live the rest of their lives believing the speculations told them by the film.

SPOILER ALERT! This film, although based on real people, is a grossly fictionalized account of what happened in March of 1945, when William Killick shot up the Thomasís house. The film tells the story as if Killick was angry that Dylan had had an affair with Vera while Killick was off fighting the war. But this basis for what actually happened has no correlation to factual history, according to people who were there and knew Dylan, Caitlin, William, and Vera quite well. In fact, according to them, Killick went off the deep end as a result of a disagreement between him and Dylan in a pub revolving around an anti-Semitic remark, that had nothing to do with suspected unfaithfulness. People who know said that they do not believe there was an improper relationship between Dylan and Vera while William was away at war and emphasize that in their opinion, Vera was not that kind of woman.

But lack of historical verisimilitude doesnít affect the quality of the film. Miller gives a captivating performance as Caitlin, who, according to all accounts, was a bohemian monster. Unfortunately for facts, Miller's performance creates a sympathetic character out of Caitlin, and from all I know and can determine, there was nothing sympathetic about her. Or Dylan, for that matter. According to Nicholas Monson, Caitlinís great-nephew (he was the grandson of Caitlinís sister, Nicolette [Camilla Rutherford] who appears in the film in an incident that is also loosely based on fact, Dylan and Caitlin were so selfish and irresponsible that they abandoned their young children, leaving them all alone in their house in Wales, to go to London to party. When people inquired about the children, Dylan and Caitlin lied that they "were being looked after." The children were found by accident by Dylan's mother who happened to be passing the house.  While the film doesnít treat Dylan with much sympathy, it does give him and Caitlin a lot more than they deserve.

As to Vera, Knightley gives her usual exceptional performance. Even though the film has so altered the facts, it canít be completely condemned for its failure to tell the truth. It is, after all, a movie, and it fits with the modern standard for biographical mischief (2005ís ďWalk the LineĒ and 2004ís ďRayĒ strayed far from the truth, just to name two). My personal opinion is that if you are dealing with an historical event and real people, you have an obligation to stick as close to the facts as entertainment value will allow. If youíre going to fictionalize the story as much as director John Maybury and writer Sharman Macdonald do here, it would be much more honest to make a roman ŗ clef and change everybodyís name.

So if you can forget the rewriting of history, this is a fascinating story of emotions and relationships, aided and abetted by wonderful performances by all the actors. Just donít exit the theater thinking that youíve seen an accurate historical account.

March 13, 2009