November 19, 2017

Under Milk Wood – new film brings Dylan Thomas’ mellifluous language to the screen

‘We are not wholly bad or good, who live our lives under Milk Wood’

Under Milk Wood is a Welsh classic, written slowly over many years by troubled poet Dylan Thomas. He described the work as ‘strangely simple and simply strange’, which is a fair summary of the plotless shenanigans witnessed in a parochial look at village life.

Under Milk Wood is subtitled a play for voices so how does it work as a film? It takes the work to a new audience and the presence of Rhys Ifans and Charlotte Church will help bring even more viewers to Kevin Allan’s bold new adaptation. But the original Under Milk Wood glories in the English language and the visuals, no matter how peculiar, are merely an extra (not always helpful) layer to the continual audio excesses. There’s a Haka performed in the sea, erotic baking, sunbathing in graveyards and much more that often detracts from the language.

Funded by various Welsh companies this is Wales as it wants to be seen, with cameras floating over attractive coastal scenery. Pembrokeshire’s Solva plays Llareggub, the literary version of Thomas’ home of Laugharne, a town that evocatively smells of seaweed and breakfast.

A narrator takes us through one day in the village, spying on the inhabitants – who are not above spying on each other. We hear their thoughts and see their actions as they live privately at home and interact in the village. It is a strange and unusual experience, with hazy, vignetted images and nothing much by way of plot. The colours are drained, the Fifties are well evoked. We voyeuristically  meet the quirky neighbours, hear their dreams and thoughts, whether erotic, murderous or more mundane.

The adaptation by performance poet Murray Lachlan Young keeps Thomas’s melodious, hypnotic language. It tumbles from Rhys Ifans in particular as a babbling, alliterative stream. You have to concentrate on your ears, there’s barely time for images. Eventually though even the celebrated language becomes too much, wrapping you in a verbal eiderdown of absurdities with no downtime to contemplate anything you’ve heard.

In Cinemas: 30th October 2015

On DVD 16th November

Certificate 15

Running Time 86 Minutes

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