I don’t smoke. I don’t like smoking. But I don’t like moves to ban smoking in movies, either. Smoking is a sad fact of life, as our president will attest, and to erase it, particularly from period films that predate our ubiquitous cancer warnings, is to eliminate part of the cultural record.
Then again, if The Edge of Love were to be rated solely on its smoking content (as the nicotine police would do) it would get at least an NC-37. This is cigarette porn at its most shameless, with the ruby-red lips of co-stars Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller exploding into close-up plumes of exotic blue smoke at the start of every chapter stop. Granted, it’s England, in the blitz, where a quick fag or two to steady the nerves was less harmful than a German rocket. But the director, John Maybury (who worked with Knightley on The Jacket), and the cinematographer, Jonathan Freeman, really zero in on these two “smokin’” babes—realizing, perhaps, that there’s not much else to fix on in the script, by Knightley’s playwright mother, Sharman Macdonald (The Winter Guest).
The disc includes the film’s useless trailer. It’s one of those silent previews, except for ambient noise and bits of score, and the tagline, “The only thing more dangerous than love is…war.” If you’re going to attract a more rarified audience—this was never going to play multiplexes—you might want to clue them in that the film is based, albeit loosely, on an episode in the life of Dylan Thomas, ably portrayed by Welch-born Brothers & Sisters co-star Matthew Rhys. Poets are all the rage in biopics this year, if that staid genre can be said to have a rage: Federico Garcia Lorca’s relationship with Salvador Dali was the focus of the quickly extinguished Little Ashes, and James Franco is playing Allen Ginsberg in Howl. Marketing-wise, you can’t accuse this one of riding the trend into the ground.
The Edge of Love is about Thomas’ mÃ©nage with the two ladies, but don’t get your hopes up. (The nudity that there is isn’t underpinned by much passion.) He’s married to the free-spirited Caitlin MacNamara (Miller, in a role intended for the too free-spirited Lindsay Lohan). But he’s still attracted to his boyhood sweetheart, Vera Phillips, a nightclub singer (with Knightley passably warbling a few standards). Phillips, though, has one eye on soldier William Killick (doll-faced Cillian Murphy), whom she marries. When he goes to war the threesome goes to Wales, where they indulge their shared love of poetry, free expression, and coffin nails. Killick’s return puts a damper on things, and his explosive rage takes everyone to court for a climactic trial. By this time, the women have realized that they love one another more than they do their troubled men—but again, don’t get your hopes up.
I had no idea this was the theme till Maybury spelled it out at the top of the brief making-of documentary on the disc. He does a good job hiding it under all those pretty fumes. (Look for 80s pop diva Lisa Stansfield somewhere in the fog.) His 1998 film Love Is the Devil was about the obsessive relationship between painter Francis Bacon (Derek Jacobi) and his working-class lover (Daniel Craig); this is more passive-obsessive, with someone mooning over someone else in short, prettily composed bursts. The actors are fine, effort was expended, and Maybury and Rhys have a few laughs about the experience on the commentary track—but The Edge of Love is more smoke than fire.
For more movie reviews and essays, visit Between Productions.