Welsh Rabbit and a Mixed Bag

Newcomers join old masters with some hearty fare, especially Under Milkwood and Cries and Whispers, and some not so hearty.

THE WINNING FILM OF THE moment is Under Milk Wood, Andrew Sinclair’s beautiful screen adaptation of the Dylan Thomas play, a triumph of visualization of the verbal visions and vignettes the poet created. The film, incidentally, was made almost two years ago and opened the 1971 Venice Film Festival. The film co-stars Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and Elizabeth Taylor and features a host of Britain’s finer actors (Vivien Merchant, Sian Phillips, Victor Spinetti, Glynis Johns and Wales’ Ryan Davies). What these performers and Sinclair have created is pure poetry, a translation of a classic concerned with the living and the dying and the continuum, with laughter and heartbreak and compassion for the human community. And that, as Variety would note, requires a “special sell.”

Who needs to be sold Dylan Thomas’s only play, written over ten years and completed a month before his death at 39 in 1953? It has been performed in nearly every country in the world, off and on Broadway in this country (most memorably in our experience by the National Theater of the Deaf, whose ballet of sign language added further dimension to the lyrical prose) where it is now a campus standard for performance and for reading. Yet over the years none had had the courage to attempt a film thereof: “Seventy little stories to tell in ninety minutes in the life of a small fishing-port. The connecting link Two Voices, their character and connection with the town unexplained…It was daunting,” Sinclair admits. And the story of his accomplisment is, in a way, as fascinating as the result. (The details are in Sinclair’s foreword to the soft-cover edition of the screenplay, published by Simon & Shuster last fall, for $2.95) For it was only in the completion of the film that he understood Burton’s telling him that the play “was all about religion, sex and death,” and in the making in the Welsh sea town of Fishguard “we were all the servants of the dead Dylan Thomas…”

Thomas had written Milk Wood with himself and Burton in mind for the First and Second Voices; Sinclair found their embodiment in several Thomas short stories, with Burton and Ryan Davies as two Army-coated strangers who wander into the town before dawn, roam the streets and cliffs and share a girl of wartime memory and seemingly drift into the sea with the next night’s tide. Through their comment, the town and the people come to interwoven life, the rhythm of their days

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