By Leslie Byron Pitt @
An obtuse and absurdist piece that will most likely delight Dylan Thomas fans, but leave many cold.
For far too often these days, British film is observed for its flouncy period pieces or grubby gangster/hooligan skulduggery. Such unfortunately narrow focus often dismisses British cinema’s strong taste for the strange, the odd and the folksy. From the creepy folk horror of the 70’s, to the contemporary offerings to Ben Wheatley (A Field in England) and Carol Morley (The Falling). Britain does strange well. In fact, it may bode well if we saw more of it.
This brings us to Under Milk Wood, which despite this writer’s earlier comment, would probably be OK with seeing less off. Under Milk Wood brings forth a dreamlike yet earthy retelling of famous poet Dylan Thomas’ radio play. The rich language Thomas’ used for his yarn of a fictional sleepy welsh community named Llareggub (spell it backwards) is competently mixed with Andy Hollis’ surreal, off-kilter imagery. The film itself a surreal blend of half remembered dreams, delusions and sexual wish-fulfilment, which plays out almost like an absurdist, British Short Cuts (1993). So far so strange.
For all its sensuality and playful cheek, there’s a disheartening feeling of pointlessness about the whole endeavour. Rhys Ifans’ deliver of the luscious and detailed prose is delectable. Charlotte Church’s appearance as apple-cheeked good time gal Polly Garter provides a markedly British highlight. However, the film only helps to remind viewers that the beauty in poetry is often in its words. The intricate stylings of Thomas’ words still sound remarkably fresh, enticing and inspiring. This visual telling somehow dilutes the immediacy of it all. One could imagine listening or reading Under Milk Wood under a tree during a lazy summer afternoon. It wouldn’t feel too out of place on a long train journey either.
Having Under Milk Wood placed in front of you is less interesting and feels more like a school exercise. A good way to introduce English students to the words of Thomas perhaps. It would probably rouse more interest to a modern classroom than the dated and financially unsuccessful 1972 version. However, it’s hard to see this melding of the snooping and the sensual stirring the loins of a casual filmgoer. That said, stranger things have happened.