"I sleep with other women because I'm a poet, and a poet feeds off life!" The speaker is the super-sonorous Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, played here by Matthew Rhys, and the line's cringe-making awfulness is sadly typical of this film: full of defiant bohemian giggling and exuberant artistic types drinking heavily, dancing together round tatty rooms to wind-up gramophones and plucking lit cigarettes out of each other's mouths: "Gissa drag on that, boy!"
It is an exasperatingly unfocused and underpowered movie that, like Churchill's famous themeless pudding, is unsure what it is supposed to be about. The dramatic crux, when it finally arrives, is a sensational scandal of the poet's life. During the war, Thomas and his wife Caitlin were living on the borderline of poverty in a cottage in Wales, in a sort of ménage with his old flame Vera Phillips, whose husband, Captain William Killick, was away seeing action in Greece. He returned with what we might now call post-traumatic stress disorder, livid to see that his wife had run through his savings keeping the wastrel poet Thomas in beer - and, in all probability, servicing him sexually to boot. A crime passionel was on the cards.
This is a very slow film for a simple reason. With the exception of Rhys - whose Welsh voice is real - the other actors' accents are fake. Very often, they are to be heard speaking like a 45rpm single played at 33rpm, and even when they're not too slow, the dialogue scenes are hobbled because the voices won't mesh.
As Vera, Keira Knightley swaps her natural cut-glass English voice for the chipped mug of working-class Welsh; she's speaking Welsh, look you, with Welsh emphases of Welshness. Cillian Murphy, an Irish actor, plays the English officer Killick, and so he dives vocally into a strange, suave rallentando every time he opens his mouth, making him sound even more like a serial killer than usual. And the English Sienna Miller, playing Caitlin Thomas, is supposed to be Irish, but sounds as if she hails from Karachi's Welsh community. Lindsay Lohan was originally slated to play the part, and her Brummie-Uruguayan accent would have been something to marvel at.
Before the scene removes to Wales, we find the principals in Blitz-hit London, where Thomas is working for the BBC making propaganda broadcasts, and Vera has a fantastically improbable gig, singing morale-boosting croony numbers down in the underground station, complete with gorgeous costume and follow-spot operator. Director John Maybury is addicted to single shots directly on Keira's face as she sings seductively into the lens, and we are clearly expected to swoon at her loveliness. The film repeatedly toys with the idea of Vera and Caitlin having a kind of gay liaison; there is, however, no chemistry between Knightley and Miller. They just look like highly competitive Notting Hill trustafariennes.
Yet for all this, the film isn't a complete waste, because of Matthew Rhys's natural presence and good-humoured address to the camera. He is an absurdly idealised version of the bloated, alcoholic Thomas, to be sure, but there is always something going on when he appears on screen. [http://www.guardian.co.uk]