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
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
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
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.
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