REVIEW by Mari Ellis Dunning

NWR Issue 106

Dan y Wenallt

As 2014 draws to a close, so do the Dylan Thomas celebrations. Conferences, memorabilia and exhibitions have been in abundance, with even the Royal Mint releasing a coin in honour of the poet. Until recently, a fantastic display of Thomas’ original manuscripts was available for viewing at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

The final instalment of the centenary year is Kevin Allen’s anticipated film adaptation of Under Milk Wood, which premiered in cinemas earlier this month, and will be shown on S4C on 27 December. The film was shot entirely in the Welsh language, but a nearly identical English version will also be released next year.

‘I’m about to release two films. One in the language of my mother, one in the language of my father,’ Allen stipulated. This is the first adaptation to make its way onto our screens since the edition which starred Richard Burton, almost fifty years ago. ‘Burton’s piece was of its time, but it’s lovely to have a new piece which isn’t Anglicised,’ Allen went on.

For now, focus is on the Welsh edition, which Allen was careful to point out was ‘not a translation at all. It’s an adaptation. That’s important to remember.’ Even those not blessed with Welsh, are able to enjoy the film for its beauty, its musicality and its surreal imagery. ‘It’s a piece of poetry,’ Allen said. ‘You don’t need the subtitles, just listen to the music, listen to the language.’

Although I am a Welsh speaker, Allen’s comment is right. Although the piece was written as a radio play, it seems to coincide with image as well as sound. The words go hand-in-hand with Allen’s cinematography, with Rhys Ifans’ raggedy haired Captain Cat and with the picturesque landscape of Pembrokeshire. There is no denying the power of the visual here, which incidentally contributes not only an extra layer of stimulation to the work, but also more meaning, more diversity and suggestion than is readily available in the words themselves. Certain domestic scenes, particularly the discussion between Cherry Owens and her husband, could come close to soap-opera territory given a chance – their actions allow further interpretation of the text.

Kevin Allen’s cinematography is almost surreal. Ifans describes it as ‘psychedelic’, a word he also uses when recalling Solva, where filming took place. ‘You’ve got to be very careful,’ Allen says of his masterpiece. ‘Treading a fine line between the literature and the poetry, and creating a dream.’ Dan y Wenallt is certainly dreamlike, almost more a sequence of images than a film; it is like watching a graphic novel come to life, rife with visual trickery. ‘I didn’t want a rainy, miserable Wales, I wanted technicolour,’ Allen said.

The film speaks of David Lynch, of noir cinema and of early Hitchcock. It harks back to Twin Town, its beginning eerily reflecting the final scene of Allen’s earlier cult film, which also stars Rhys Ifans. Hearing the work read aloud in Welsh is refreshing, bringing together the musicality and lyricism of our language, the gorgeous voice of Charlotte Church, and combining it with green landscape and dark imagery. ‘I’m so much more aware of Dylan Thomas now. I feel close to him,’ Allen concluded.

Kevin Allen’s Dan y Wenallt premieres on S4C tonight, 27 December

Mari Ellis Denning blogs for New Welsh Review and is completing an MA in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University


previous review: Stormteller
next review: Three Graves Full


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