Under Milk Wood
Kevin Allen helms a low budget and loving adaptation of Dylan Thomas' play
Dylan Thomas’ 1954 radio play, first written for the BBC, has taken many forms over the years. Made famous by the original Richard Burton-voiced version and the 1972 film he later appeared in (alongside Peter O’Toole and Elizabeth Taylor), Thomas’ bawdy hymn to the inhabitants of a fictional Welsh village has inspired an animated version, a George Martin-produced album and even a ballet. Now comes Kevin Allen’s low budget but loving film, starring Rhys Ifans and Charlotte Church.
For those who don’t know Thomas’ work, Under Milk Wood offers a peek inside the dreams and minds of the inhabitants of Llareggub (that’s ‘bugger all’ backwards). Narrated by Ifans – who kickstarted his career nearly 20 years ago on Allen’s sub-Trainspotting crime comedy Twin Town – the Welsh actor delivers a remarkably rich reading of the text, whilst also appearing on screen as the blind seafarer Captain Cat, who's tormented by images of his drowned shipmates.
Gently guiding viewers through a series of vignettes of Welsh life, the beguiling characters include Mr Pugh (Boyd Clack), the schoolmaster who dreams of poisoning his wife, and the twice-widowed guesthouse owner Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard (Buddug Verona James). But if there’s a blackly comic viewpoint, it’s tempered by Thomas’ saucy, seaside-postcard humour. Beginning with an orgasmic cry, it continues in this lusty vein; Church, with her hips swaying, is particularly alluring as Polly Garter, the good-time girl who gets up to all sorts.
Admittedly, it’s not always easy to follow. And, while Allen may well disagree, there are times when Under Milk Wood works best with your eyes closed – simply letting Ifans’ hypnotic voice wash over you. It’s a film you can drift in and out of, allowing the arresting, candy-coloured visuals to filter into your consciousness, courtesy of Allen’s caring and considered interpretation. If he were alive today, Thomas would almost certainly approve.
Selected release from Fri 30 Oct.