The way I look at it, Dylan Thomas was the Mickey Mantle of literature.
Both men were considered superstars while still in their teens, and of
both of them it could be said, "Damn, as good as he was, imagine how much
better he might have been, had he stayed sober." Dylan Thomas was not a
serious intellectual like Ezra Pound, nor a crusader like W.H. Auden, nor
a meticulous craftsman like T.S. Eliot, and he had neither the education
nor the discipline one would expect from a serious writer, but there was
no denying that he had talent. He was a true natural genius. Among all the
20th century poets, he had perhaps the greatest natural gift for capturing
the rhythm and the inherent musicality of the English language. He also became a genuine pop
superstar by performing theatrical basso recitations of his own compositions,
often followed by some
flamboyant public behavior. Since his fame provided him with women eager
to pick him up, and with men eager to pick up his bar tabs, he lived out
his thirties as a drunkard and a compulsive adulterer. He was to 20th
century poetry what Lord Byron was to the 19th, making up in charisma what
he lacked in scholarship. I suppose he was the last poet in our language
to live like a rock star, and the last to be able to, despite a homely,
Here is a recording of him reciting his most famous poem:
His ride on the fame express didn't last long. Alcohol killed him before his 40th birthday.
You'd think there would be at least one great movie about the life he
led from the end of WW2 until his death in 1953.
Unfortunately this isn't it.
This is a muddled historical romance about Dylan's salad days in the
WW2 era. It incorporates Dylan and his wife into a fictional tapestry
about a romantic quadrangle involving the two of them with Dylan's boyhood
love (Keira Knightley) and her husband. The two women end up close
friends, but everyone's life is complicated by the fact that Dylan seduces
the ex-lover while her husband is off to war (apparently acting in the
previous year's Keira Knightley movie, Atonement). When hubby returns, he's
not happy to discover that he has risked his life so that his salary could
provide Dylan Thomas with sex and booze.
The film picked up a bit of notoriety when Lindsay Lohan was originally
cast as Dylan's Irish wife, and told everyone that her character's
relationship with the Keira Knightley character had lesbian undertones.
That turned out to be mostly inaccurate, although the two women do bathe
together and there is a time when they disappear under the covers
together, so it's not entirely missing from the subtext. I'm pretty
sure that they are just supposed to be best friends, and closer than
sisters. (They do not kiss or embrace sexually.) At any rate, Lohan
ultimately had to leave the project, and the purported lesbian activity
was assigned to Sienna Miller, who did a fine job.
Indeed, everyone involved did a fine job. This literature-based
chick-flick uses an army of talented people to evoke the styles and feel of
another era (WW2), and is assembled by an excellent director and acted by
a top-notch cast. Keira Knightley even sang quite well. But to what end?
To the screenwriter's credit, the film avoids romanticizing Dylan
Thomas, portraying him fairly as a great talent who could also be a
cowardly, jealous, small-minded sot, but I'll be damned if I can figure
out why anybody wanted to make this film in the first place, or what the
point was supposed to be. It all seems like "a tale ... full of sound and
fury, signifying nothing."
Like a lot of Dylan's poems.