Under Milk Wood


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A day in the life of a Welsh village.

This is kind of an odd duck as movies go…I’m just going to reprint the beginning of the Wikipedia article here:

When Dylan Thomas was staying in New Quay one winter, he went out early one morning into the still sleeping town and verses came to his mind about the inhabitants. He wrote the account of this as Quite Early One Morning in 1944, and recorded the story for radio in 1945. He continued to work on the idea for eight years and on 9 September 1953 he delivered a full draft of Under Milk Wood to the BBC as he left for a tour of America, intending to revise the manuscript on his return. He read a part of the script in public for the first time in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Soon after, with others, he sound-recorded a performance at the YMHA center on 92nd Street, Manhattan. Two months later he was dead.

The play was recorded by the BBC in 1954 with a distinguished all-Welsh cast and produced by Douglas Cleverdon. Daniel Jones, a composer who was a lifelong friend of Thomas’s, wrote the music for the production. The play was first broadcast (two month after his death) on 25 January 1954, on the BBC’s Third Programme, and repeated two days later. The recording featured Richard Burton as ‘First Voice’.

So this is a movie of a radio play…and it feels like it.

Firstly, it’s an all-star cast: Serious Honey Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Mr. Otter’s Only True Love Glynis Johns, a very young Angharad Rees (better known to most of us as Demelza in the mid-70s costume drama Poldark)…an excellent cast.

What a shame they were largely wasted…because this really is meant to be spoken and listened to, at least as Thomas left it. Yes, you need good actors to do the Welsh accents and do them right (as we found out to our dismay when we went to see a production at a local community college that does otherwise excellent productions, and where they had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA of the difference between a Welsh accent and an Irish one…) but there is really not a lot to do here, visually. Yes, there are people saying things, moving around and meeting each other to a certain extent, but much of it is done solo, with few interactions with other people, or at most one or two. The day starts and ends with dreams, and that’s the feeling of the movie.

And I have to say, we watched this on a day when I was very sick, and the lovely Welsh voices lulled me to sleep a couple of times…

Not a bad movie, but I would instead try the BBC recording of a cast that includes Thomas himself reading the script.

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