5 November 2014

Film Review - Set Fire To The Stars (2014)

Munro Film Services
Release Date:
7th November 2014 (UK)
Rating: 15
Andy Goddard
Elijah Wood, Celyn Jones, Kelly Reilly

The first of Dylan Thomas’s notorious spoken-word tours of the USA, upon which the late poet allegedly spent the bulk of his time drunk, is the focus of Andy Goddard’s debut feature. During the last few years of his life, Thomas was invited by academic John Brinnin to undertake a tour of university campuses and theatres throughout the USA, exposing himself and his work to new and lucrative audiences. It would be on the fourth of these tours that Thomas would eventually die after years of alcoholism and ill health.

Celyn Jones is on raucous form as Thomas, who ably attempts to drink the entirety of New York dry before taking to the stage to belt out his work. Elijah Wood takes up the role of Brinnin, in another part you suspect he has taken on in order to lessen the Hobbit-shaped shadow which looms over much of his work these days.

Celyn Jones’s hell –raising performance gives us a competent look at the insecurities and frailties of a passionate, yet troubled genius. Disappointingly though, the Dylan Thomas on show in Set Fire to the Stars is Dylan Thomas the reckless, rather than Dylan Thomas the artist. There’s little sense of the man’s work in a film which is itself lacking in poetry. As a portrait of difficult, destructive talent it’s capable, but this could be any man out of control, any artist.

Goddard has opted for a monochrome, black and white visual style to better generate a temporal sense of New York in the early fifties. It’s an attempt at contemporising which is somewhat undermined by a strange sense of visual parochialism stemming from the fact that the film was shot in Wales; primarily the Welsh countryside by the looks of things. I acknowledge that it seems unduly harsh to criticise the film based on the location of its production, but the clamour of feigned American accents from recognisable British actors, complimented by a general sense of impoverishment, leaves one with a striking sense of deficiency.

What’s most disappointing of all is, despite Celyn Jones’s best efforts, Thomas remains largely a repellent enigma. Goddard sheds no light on what drives his self-destructive passion or what fuels his talent. Thomas aficionados will likely find this light on wisdom, while newcomers areunlikely to find inspiration.

Chris Banks

This Review was originally reviewed at The Peoples Movies

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