If there’s a list somewhere of pointless exercises, adapting Dylan Thomas’s lush and lovely 1954 ‘play for voices’ for the big screen must be pretty near the top. Spoken out loud, ‘Under Milk Wood’ stands alone and entire, steeped in such rich imagery that if you close your eyes you can see its rustic Welsh landscape unfolding. Adding images can only stifle the play’s poetic power – and so it proves with this gaudy, low-budget movie version.
Rhys Ifans is, to be fair, a wonderful narrator, adding a spark and playfulness missing from the ponderous Richard Burton version. He also appears as Captain Cat, one of the shifting network of characters who populate the coastal village of Llareggub (read it backwards), and whose dreams, fears, memories and desires make up the meat of the poetic narrative.
It’s this latter element that drives ‘Twin Town’ director Kevin Allen’s adaptation: Thomas’s play is rich with erotic imagery, but Allen brings it all to the surface in crude seaside-postcard fashion: the sight of Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard masochistically abusing her two dead husbands by the light of a dildo-shaped candle is just the tip of a cringe-inducing priapic iceberg. It’s impossible not to marvel at Thomas’s writhing, riddling language, but this is one movie you might enjoy more with your eyes closed.