Our rating: 2 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
Movies set during the second world war intrigue me. It interests me to see how women handled the war outside the front lines. The Edge of Love is loosely based on a true story about a poet and the unusual relationships in his life, but it comes across as more of an introspective film that contemplates the motivations behind selfish actions. It is not a particularly memorable or even recommendable production but does feature fine performances and exquisite photography.
It is the height of the war and the beautiful Vera Phillips (Keira Knightley) is drawing crowds in underground nightclubs. A popular entertainer with a beautiful voice, she is surprised but not displeased to run into an old friend from her youth in Wales -- the poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys). Having come up to London to escape the country for a short time and pursue his muse, he has left his wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller) behind, but conveniently neglects to mention her to Vera. The truth comes out when his wife turns up on his doorstep but surprisingly, it does not take her long to get along famously with his would-be mistress. Meanwhile, a young man named William Killick (Cillian Murphy) attempts to gain Vera's trust and affection but finds her disinterest disconcerting. Vera is concerned that he will ship out and die abroad and her heart will be broken.
In spite of her concerns on this front, Vera agrees to marry him but when he is sent overseas to the front lines, her close friendship with Dylan threatens to transform into something more. The result is a movie of semi-likable characters but it is hard to really feel for any of them. Dylan frequently sleeps around, supposedly in retaliation against his wife, who is known for being promiscuous. The pair of them are caught in an abusive cycle of hatred and misbehavior in which each one acts out in response to the other one's most recent indiscretion. It's hard to like someone like that. Vera was quite likable but ultimately wavered and slept with Dylan. It's therefore difficult in the end to believe she truly has any feelings for her husband when he turns up, but I liked the fact that she chose to love him in spite of his emotional problems.
My feelings about this movie are unusual at best. At the time, I found it rather dull and un-engaging but it has stuck with me for awhile and so there may be some small merit in it after all, if merely to illustrate how best to ruin your marriage. There has been some controversy over the friendship of Vera and Caitlin as well. Some viewers have expressed surprise at a "homosexual undertone" to their behavior, but in all honesty I did not see it. The fact that they take a bath together may raise some eyebrows, but is not entirely unfathomable in wartime and rations England. Caitlin does plant a kiss on Vera's lips toward the end of the film in "home movies" as a joke. They spend a lot of time together talking and walking arm in arm, even curling up under the covers together, but I never got a weird vibe from it like I have in other productions. (I might also mention that ClearPlay removes some of these scenes.)
Obviously, the story revolves around adultery and the consequences of it. It is not very inspiring and at times even moderately depressing (William comes home to wonder if his wife has cheated on him). There are controversial topics present, such as abortion. Vera expresses her horror at being pregnant and Caitlin dismisses it as something she could "get rid of." Later, Caitlin turns up pregnant with someone's child apart from her husband and asks Vera for the money to have it aborted. After a conversation about whether the doctor can be trusted, the girls run to the bank and that's the last we hear of it. Dylan and Caitlin have frequent extramarital affairs, mostly implied. There are three sex scenes and some upper female nudity. Profanities are moderate but there is some harsher language and abuse of Jesus' name. Violence consists of a man and woman in a pub engaging in a violent slapping match. William accidentally hits his wife across the jaw with a shotgun butt, leaving an ugly bruise. A jealous husband sprays a home with bullets, terrifying the occupants and dismissing the fact that there is a screaming child present. There is a huge amount of smoking as well.
The costuming, the musical score, and the cinematography are all brilliant. The actors looked and felt very natural for the time period and some of their moments together were pure magic. I was particularly impressed with Cillian Murphy, who normally is seen as a villain and ends up being empathetic here. Apart from the morality, there was nothing really "wrong" with the film and yet it means nothing to me. I suspect the reason is I never found any of the characters particularly likable and so failed to connect with them emotionally. For me, that's a deal-breaker.