Under Milk Wood | ★★★★
I studied Dylan Thomas’s “Under Milk Wood” for my English A Level, rather more years ago now than I choose to mention and it came as quite a surprise to me to realise that I still remembered, almost word for word the narrator’s first long speech, beautifully spoken here by Rhys Ifans.
“Under Milk Wood” is really an extended dramatic poem for voices. It was first conceived as a radio play, commissioned by the BBC in 1954, with Richard Burton voicing the narrator. Later it was turned into a stage play, and there is at least one previous film (1972) with Burton reprising his narrator role, and with such luminaries as Elizabeth Taylor, Peter O’Toole and Glynis Johns amongst the cast.
Whilst remaining absolutely true to Thomas’s original text, the screenplay of this new film, brings out more than any I’ve seen or heard, the sheer earthy, lascivious and hilariously funny filthiness of Thomas’s dreamscape, a true celebration of the joys of sex. Only most of the sex in this story takes place in people’s minds, their fantasies and desires brought out in full, luscious technicolour glory. The film looks superb, for which director of photography Andy Hollis deserves enormous credit.
Director Kevin Allen has at his disposal an excellent cast of Welsh actors, many of them faces well-known from TV, all perfect for their roles. Rhys Ifans, who also doubles as Captain Cat, is quite as effective as Richard Burton in his long opening speech, his accent, though perfectly intelligible, just that bit more Welsh, where Burton, targeting a 1950s audience, slightly Anglicised his tones.
Charlotte Church, making a very successful screen debut, is cast as Polly Garter. She has a plump, rounded, wholesome sexiness that is absolutely perfect for the fertile baby machine, that the rest of the village like to gossip about.
Ultimately, though, the film is also about loss; loss of community, loss of a way of life. Captain Cat is old and dying and his demise is symbolic of the death of the village Llareggub (Bugger All spelt backwards). There hangs over the film a purveying sense of nostalgia for a time that never waa. Gritty realism is swept away with a click of the camera, and for 85 minutes we can escape into a world of dreams and fantasy. I enjoyed it immensely.