I thought Keira Knightley’s finest performance was her compelling portrait of a troubled waitress in director John Maybury’s barely-seen fantasy thriller The Jacket — much better than her work in the much-praised hit Atonement.
This Second World War-set melodrama reunites The Jacket star and director, but it has none of the earlier film’s spark. The Edge of Love centres on Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys) and his love for two women — his wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller) and sometime lover Vera (Knightley). Maybury lays on period detail with a steam shovel, decorating it and the drama with artistic flourishes which look good but add nothing to the uneven narrative.
Kiera Knightley (left) flashes her tooth-filed grin but gets out-acted by Sienna Miller
And, far too often, Knightley returns to relying on her trademark tooth-filled grin rather than creating and illuminating her character. Even hampered by a less than persuasive screenplay, many of the dramatic scenes are beyond her capabilities.
She does gets a chance to sing, though, and does it rather attractively, entertaining Londoners escaping Hitler’s blitz on Underground platforms.
Former childhood sweethearts Vera and Dylan meet in wartime London and are sexually attracted again. She is now a singer; he writes propaganda for the war effort and is married to Caitlin, who turns a blind eye to his sexual escapades. Dylan is unamused when Vera marries British soldier William (Cillian Murphy), but she joins him and Caitlin to live in Wales after William is sent into action and inevitable sexual tensions arise between the three.
In any other circumstances, Knightley should have been able to use her star status to demand a rewrite or two. Unfortunately for her, screenwriter Sharman MacDonald is also her mother and, as we all know, mother knows best. The screenplay’s prime focus is not its ostensible subject, Thomas, who largely registers as a cipher, but the relationship between the women in his life. But all too frequently it fails to rise above cliché and predictable angst.
Who would have predicted Miller, despite an odd, fluctuating accent, would out-act Knightley? That’s what happens, though. Knightley works hard but never convinces, Rhys barely made an impression, leaving the acting honours to Murphy.
The film is set in the 1940s and, to be honest, too often feels as though it was filmed then — which is not necessarily meant as a compliment.
Overall, it rarely rises above the level of a well-enough-made but mostly facile television film. Unsurprising, that, since the BBC are co-producers.