April 18, 2010

For The Love of Peter O'Toole: Under Milk Wood

Film: Under Milk Wood (Andrew Sinclair, 1972)
Role: Captain Cat

Under Milk Wood is an adaptation of Dylan Thomas' famous radio play of the same name. It stars O'Toole, his friend Richard Burton and Burton's wife Elizabeth Taylor, all three of whom were friends of Thomas'. I don't think I would recommend this film to anyone who wasn't a great admirer of Thomas' work, which is a very acquired taste. Being of that hearty Celtic stock myself, I think it must be inborn in me to love the thick, rolling consonance of Thomas' poetry. Something about verdant hills, the smell of the sea and the taste of a pint of Guinness gets me all nostalgic in the blood.

Burton plays the First Man, the narrator and tour guide of the Welsh town Llareggub ("bugger all" spelled backwards--cheeky). Taylor plays Rosie Probert, the former lover of O'Toole now-blind sea captain, shown Cat's in soft, nostalgic flashbacks for the lost love of his life. The film is an interesting experiment in the challenges and rewards of adapting a radio play to the screen. What was meant to be imagined is now given life and in some regards, the fun of conjuring the town's colorful inhabitants is taken away from you. On the other hand, if you forget the radio play and focus on the acting, the sound design, and especially Burton's narration, it's hard not to get caught up in the film's poetic beauty. Characters like Polly Garters, the woman with many children from many men, is an even more heartbreaking character when given life by actressAnn Beach. The whole piece has a quiet air of sadness as we peak into these peoples' lives to witness their dreams and heartbreak for a fleeting moment. Like Captain Cat, at the end of the film, we will only have our memories to keep us company. We can only remember our time under Milk Wood with fond nostalgia.

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