Screenwriter: Sharman MacDonald
Starring: Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Matthew Rhys, Cillian Murphy
Running time: 110 mins
> Click here for our interview with Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller
Contrary to what you may believe, The Edge Of Love is neither a Dylan Thomas biopic nor an excuse to see two hot actresses engaged in bawdy bedroom romps. Instead, John Maybury's film is a visually and emotionally seductive insight into the minds of four young lovers who struggle to escape the harrowing realities of warfare and their own misdemeanours. It also functions as a perfect reminder that Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller are highly talented performers rather than mere tabloid fodder.
The tangled love life of renowned alcoholic poet Dylan Thomas (Rhys) provides the backdrop for the story, as he balances the attention of showboating wife Caitlin (Miller) and his childhood flame Vera (Knightley). The stalkerish tendencies of soldier William (Murphy) eventually win Vera over, but when he's sent to fight abroad the remaining trio move to the Welsh coast to escape wartorn London. But that's when the real fighting begins, as crimes of passion begin to take hold...
The Edge Of Love's young leads are superbly cast and all portray their characters in believable fashion. In a display of Girl Power that's thankfully far removed from Posh Spice's stilettos, Knightley and Miller are astoundingly impressive as the lovetorn, generous Vera and the psychologically damaged and jealous Caitlin. It appears that Knightley has become overly associated with her costume drama pouting of late, but she nails the emotional complexities of her fragile character, who ultimately crumbles into temptation.
As for Miller, she's more accustomed to generating column inches than critical plaudits. As Caitlin though, her piercing blue eyes almost burn through the celluloid at times, with the unhinged, increasingly depressed persona of the poet's wife brought out superbly, reaching a crescendo in the latter stages. When she angrily snaps "I am not a deposit box" to her husband, you can feel her inner frustration deeply. It's often a visually unflattering role, but one that should firmly establish her credentials as a fine actress.
Matthew Rhys nails the brilliantly flawed poet, enabling us to understand exactly why the two ladies were so magnetically drawn to him. Even when he’s not present in a scene, the engaging lilt of his poetic voice still casts its sonic shadow over proceedings.
With his distinctive looks and soft voice, Cillian Murphy is destined to be the first number Hollywood casting agents will call when they're on the hunt for someone to play a psychopath. He's far from one-dimensional as William though, displaying both emotional warmth and coldness at various stages, and his initial fixation with Vera mirroring the audience's own subjective gaze.
Although the latter half of the film frustratingly marginalises Caitlin, which fittingly mirrors Dylan's own treatment of her, there's a growing sense of simmering tension that reaches boiling point when William explosively cracks under the strain of what he has seen as a soldier and come to suspect about Vera and her newborn baby. There are no clear cut rights or wrongs, with the script working wonders at allowing us to understand, if not always sympathise, with the actions of the four protagonists.
Director Maybury instantly seduces us with the film's opening shot, a close up of Knightley's alluring face, tinged in expressionistic blue light and staring back at us with a dreamy gaze before breaking into song. The use of singing throughout the film closely harks back to the emotional transcendence achieved by David Lynch in notable scenes in both Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks, which is high praise indeed. Frequent Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti is also responsible for a sublime soundtrack that enhances the powerful and harrowing nature of key scenes.
There is a series of strong thematic and visual juxtapositions at work throughout the narrative. Maybury cleverly splices shots of Vera giving birth and William witnessing a horrific death together, while the extremities of wartorn London and William's army duties are neatly counterbalanced by Dylan's poetry and grainy, dreamy sequences of Vera and Caitlin cartwheeling along the beach with the innocence of children, despite their very adult behaviour elsewhere in the film. Above all, the film confronts our own conceptions of love through the exploration of the characters' often ambiguous actions.
Beautifully shot and cerebrally involving, The Edge Of Love seduces us into wanting more. The narrative may drift in and out of focus in the second half, like the images themselves, but thankfully this doesn't spoil the uniformly impressive performances and enthralling visual composition of the film. It’s easy to imagine that different viewers will have different perceptions of the characters and their true feelings, which underlines the beauty of ambiguity.
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