Under Milk Wood **
Dir: Kevin Allen. With: Rhys Ifans, Charlotte Church, Julian Lewis Jones, Lisa Palfrey. 87 mins. Cert: 15
Is it significant that, in Dylan Thomas’s centenary year, more effort has been made to dramatise the life – A Poet in New York on TV, Set Fire to the Stars in cinemas – than the work? On the plus side, Kevin Allen’s new take on Thomas’s great radio fantasia of 1954 – emerging in simultaneously shot English- and Welsh-language versions, with Charlotte Church singing torch songs as Llareggub’s town sweetheart Polly Garter – proves more rooted in place, and less literal-minded than its 1972 Burton-Taylor predecessor, a project born of a vanity denied the begrimed, dishevelled character actors gathered here.
Still, it soon becomes apparent Allen hasn’t the sweeping vision or budget to deliver anything more than eccentric odds and ends. Only early on, with the trippy, seaweed-strewn memories of Rhys Ifans’ Captain Cat, does it find anything like a cinematic analogue to the text’s pagan strangeness; elsewhere, it assumes the air of a strained community theatre project, nudging and winking its way around anything remotely phallic. Decking out local battleaxe Mrs. Ogmore Pritchard (Buddug Verona James) in S&M gear recalls Allen’s spirited work on 1997’s Twin Town and TV’s Benidorm, but also typifies the reduction of a lusty poetry to baser, end-of-the-pier ribaldry.
Under Milk Wood opens in selected cinemas from today.