Saturday 7 June 2008


Clocked one cinema event on a brief excursion to the Hay Festival last weekend: director John Maybury talking about The Edge of Love which opens the Edinburgh Film Festival in a week or so and goes on general release almost immediately after. The film highlights a brief period in the life of Dylan Thomas, a love quadrangle featuring himself, his wife, Caitlin, his childhood sweetheart, Vera Phillips and her husband, William Killick. It's played out in the pub society of war-torn London and (by contrast) on a clifftop in Newquay on the Welsh coast. Much is made of the close friendship that develops out of rivalry between the two women. Even more, I'm afraid, by the tabloids. Scripted by Scottish-Welsh scriptwriter Sharmon Macdonald, mother of Keira Knightley, and starring - Keira Knightley (Vera), Sienna Miller (Caitlin), Matthew Rhys (Thomas) and Cillian Murphy (Killick), it's hard to gage the outcome from the series of truncated clips we were shown. Inauspicious that the official trailer sports a quote from She Magazine along the lines of "This year's Atonement - only better".

On the plus side, a previous 'biopic' Love Is The Devil: Study for a Portait of Francis Bacon that Maybury wrote and directed 10 years ago proved extremely impressive. Maybury was asked by a member of the Hay audience whether access to Bacon's paintings (denied by the Estate) would have made for a better film. Without hesitation he responded that the reverse was true. Being forced to devise a cinematic syntax to stand in for Bacon's grotesque, dislocated vision of the world, employing strategies as simple and effective as shooting through beer glasses, was a challenge that paid off. I wonder if the creative constraints brought into play with The Edge of Love will be sufficient to do the trick? Mick Jagger apparently owns and is hanging tightly onto the rights to much of Thomas's work though some poems have been incorporated. Much of the audience seemed to object to their being overlaid by an overblown musical soundtrack though Maybury vigorously defended the composer, Angelo Bandalamenti.

Time for that old truism about the inverse proportion between size of budget and freedom to take risks or liberties? Certainly talk of producers and compromises cropped up; Thomas was involved with the Crown Film Unit making propaganda films during WW2 and Maybury apologised for the crass edge to his own pastiche documentary. "American audiences need the obvious stated," was the gist of what he said. Ironic given the fact that much of the output of the Unit was geared towards stimulating US support for the Allied forces.

Oh well! It could go either way. Maybury started off making charged, inventive and frenetic films on Super 8 (Derek Jarman gave him his first camera) with titles like Tortures That Laugh and The Court of Miracles. His first Hollywood film The Jacket was produced by George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh and he has plenty of projects pending: Wuthering Heights, a biopic of Lee Miller. Maybe he'll go through the stratosphere and be able to do as he pleases. I'm not convinced it works quite like that. Don't subscribe to keeping the creative genius in the garret but maybe it's best to hope for competence with a few frills.

R4's Film Programme will feature an interview with Maybury, probably on Friday 20 June 4.30pm to coincide with the film's London release.