The Edge of Love
Starring: Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Matthew Rhys, Cillian Murphy
Director: John Maybury
'I'm a poet and a poet feeds off life,' exclaims Dylan Thomas (played by Matthew Rhys), the flamboyant Welsh writer around which The Edge of Love revolves.
It is hardly uttered with sincerity - the line comes up in a discussion of his colourful love life - after he walks out of another broadcast he is making for the Ministry of Information, frustrated about being a jobbing writer rather than the literary genius he thinks he is.
But equally frustrating - for the viewer - is that The Edge of Love is such a piece of artifice. John Maybury's film can hardly be seen as feeding off real life. What's most troubling is the vacuity of the beautiful people, meticulous period settings and exquisite cinematography. Unlike in Atonement - another British film set during the second world war, and also starring Keira Knightley - the characters are ciphers whose Welsh accents are as wobbly as the logic of their existence, rendering the break-ups and make-ups hardly engaging.
It's appropriate the film begins with a close-up of the heavily made-up Vera Phillips (Knightley, above with Sienna Miller), zooming out to reveal her as a chanteuse performing in a makeshift venue in the London Underground during the Blitz. It's an image Maybury returns to frequently; not only close-ups of Knightley - understandable, given her mother Sharman Macdonald wrote the script - but also of the other characters, whether it be Dylan, his wife Caitlin (Miller) and Phillips' soldier boyfriend William (Cillian Murphy).
Such suffocating use of close-ups only heightens the half-baked nature of the human emotions on show. The characters spend the first half of the film longing to return to their roots as they brave bombings in London, but such sentiments about their homeland are not brought up again once they're back in idyllic Wales.
More could be developed from the ambiguous bonds between childhood friends Vera and Dylan or William's pain in returning from action in Greece to find his efforts despised by London's chattering classes (probably an analogy about how servicemen returning from Iraq are treated by sceptics today) and Vera frittering his earnings away on Dylan's alcoholism.
Even the final act of violence - which finally arouses the protagonists from their lethargy and self-indulgence - fails to bring the film to the brink. If only Maybury could draw more from the life of ordinary folks, he would have an effective romance on his hands. As it is, The Edge of Love looks as empty as the pseudo-bohemian pretensions of its protagonists.
The Edge of Love opens today