UNDER MILK WOOD
(director/writer: Andrew Sinclair; screenwriter: from the radio play by Dylan Thomas; cinematographer: Robert Huke; editor: Willy Kemplen; music: Brian Gascoigne; cast: Richard Burton (1st Voice), Elizabeth Taylor (Rosie Probert), Peter O’Toole (Captain Cat), Glynis Johns (Myfanwy Price), Vivien Merchant (Mrs. Pugh), Talfryn Thomas (Mr. Pugh), Sian Phillips (Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard), Victor Spinetti (Mog Edwards), Ryan Davies (2nd Voice), Angharad Rees (Gossamer Benyon), Michael Forrest (Sinbad the barkeep), Ann Beach (Polly Garter); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Jules Buck/Hugh French; Hart Sharp Video; 1972-UK)
“The film, faithful to the poem, offers an endearing, often humorous, examination of Welsh life.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
My limited link with the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas is that as an NYU film student in the 1960s I also hung around the bard’s favorite watering hole, the White Horse Tavern, built in 1880 and located in Greenwich Village, where today a plaque on the wall above the bar commemorates the November night in 1953 when the poet, still only 39, downed one last shot of whiskey, after some seventeen others, and staggered outside and collapsed on the sidewalk. He was to die in the hospital the next day.
The experimental artistic film, without a traditional plot, is imaginatively and warmly directed and written by Andrew Sinclair. It’s based on the radio play Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas (never fully completed but published after his death in 1954), subtitled “A Play for Voices.” His last major poem was done in free-form verse. The poet tells of the everyday lives, over a 24 hour period, of a number of eccentrics in the small fishing village of Llareggub (meant to be read backwards as Bugger-all). Native Welshman Richard Burton, given no name but referred to as the First Voice, a stranger to the village, provides the background voice-over of village life with his rich poetical voice. The Second Voice (Ryan Davies), also a visitor, offers insights into the colorful characters’ more secretive thoughts of the subconscious world.
Many of the characters are haunted by a longing unfulfilled: The blind old seafarer Captain Cat (Peter O’Toole) is still plagued by hearing voices of his drowned crew. He sits at his window listening to the villagers going about their business and knows them only by their sounds. In his anguish he recalls his lost love, the only one he ever truly loved, the lusty hooker Rosie Probert (Elizabeth Taylor, married at the time to Burton). The mild-mannered schoolmaster Mr. Pugh (Talfryn Thomas) dreams of poisoning his wife (Vivien Merchant) as he brings her tea. The Second Voice reveals that schoolteacher Gossamer Benyon (Angharad Rees) and Sinbad the barkeep (Michael Forrest) love each other but never get it on because they never reveal their true feelings to one another. The promiscuous Polly Garter (Ann Beach) sings all day of her lost love Little Willy Wee. And, Miss Myfanwy Price (Glynis Johns) keeps occupied selling candy to the excited schoolchildren as she awaits her regular letter from her suitor Mog Edwards (Victor Spinetti).
This, for the most part gentle lyrical piece, is a fitting film for introducing the public to Thomas’s poetry. It captures the poem’s whimsical mood, as it holds the villagers up as lucky souls to have such a peaceful place to reside. The film, faithful to the poem, offers an endearing, often humorous, examination of Welsh life. Somehow it fell under the radar and never received the acclaim it should have gotten.
REVIEWED ON 4/17/2006 GRADE: B+