Set Fire to the Stars
Elijah Wood and Celyn Jones star in this often overwrought portrayal of Dylan Thomas
Writer-director Andy Goddard has enlisted some world class assistance in creating his debut feature film, an account of Dylan Thomas’ 1950 visit to the United States at the behest of literary academic John Malcolm Brinnin. Cinematographer Chris Seager paints the monochrome New York skyline as pretty as a picture before doing similarly beautiful (but slightly more dishevelled) work with Brinnin’s rural retreat, while Thomas’ Welsh countryman Gruff Rhys (of Super Furry fame) supplies a score that flits and flies with delicacy and nuance.
The talent in front of the camera is less consistent. Elijah Wood nicely plays the dapper but insecure Brinnan in melancholic opposition to Celyn Jones’ full-throttle Thomas: a man of grandiose character who is by turns infantile, petulantly taciturn, intensely serious, blazing drunk and grimly hungover. It’s a full-on performance that’s exhausting to watch, only outdone by a last act appearance from Kelly Reilly as Thomas’ elemental battle-nymph of a wife. The film’s episodic structure results in some phenomenal five-minute turns – Richard Brake’s world-weary barfly and Shirley Henderson’s extroverted storyteller in particular – but they offer only brief respite from the all-consuming Thomas.
Goddard and Jones’ script is partly to blame: in a world bursting with literary allusion (the walls of Brinnan’s home are literally papered with book pages), every line of Thomas’ speech is overly poetical. While this does result in some wonderfully crafted lines (Thomas describes himself as a man who ‘can’t hold his friends or answer his liquor’), the end result is a character – and film – overburdened with poetic profundity.
Screening at Cineworld, Edinburgh, Mon 23 Jun and Odeon Lothian Road, Edinburgh, Tue 24 Jun as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2014.