To begin at the beginning, night has well and truly fallen on this tiny, Welsh coastal town, and the whole population is well into their slumber, well, almost all, as Captain Cat (Rhys Ifans) remains awake, now elderly and blind but remembering wistfully his time before when he took to the Seven Seas and lost many men along the way, men whose voices he imagines he can still hear calling out to him from the depths of the ocean. What a time they would have, carousing, but there's a lost love the Captain regretfully recalls in amongst all that as well, and he's not the only one remembering what has gone before in the middle of the night, as the villagers' dreams are both full of yesterday and full of lust...
Under Milk Wood began at its beginning as a radio play by Wales' greatest poet, Dylan Thomas, though not one he would live to hear broadcast as he died the previous year after a bout of heavy drinking, still only in his late thirties. Nevertheless, that programme with Richard Burton's indelible tones guiding us through the village's quirks and foibles was an instant classic and still recalled fondly many decades later; there was a film version in 1972 that rehired Burton to recreate his narration, on the condition that they employ his missus Elizabeth Taylor into the deal. That was picturesque yet unsatisfactory, not really having the imagery live up to what was an essentially aural experience.
Therefore it was a brave man who took another run at it, and director Kevin Allen thought he could give it a game try, with results that were offered a guarded welcome when they saw how far he emphasised the sexual element. Each character seems to be preoccupied with the pleasures of the flesh, with a few exceptions though even they find a substitute after a fashion, so if they're not thinking about getting their own satisfaction they're caught up in the lives of their neighbours, those who have dull existences which need the fascination of what others get up to in order to give much-needed meaning to their long days. Allen presented their experiences as one, long, near-hour-and-a-half montage, the narration by many voices weaving in and out of the action.
He also appeared to be endeavouring to make this the most Welsh film ever created, for while there may not have been any rugby the overall tone was steeped in the lore of the valleys, even though the village is set by the sea. There was a Welsh language version if you wished to give that a try, though you imagine most of those who did applied the subtitle option to their viewing, but it was the English version that had the widest audience, not that this was a hit, containing as it did more of a niche appeal to fans of the poetry who didn't mind Allen's insistence on adding bits and bobs to the text that were rather crude instead of poetic. Call it earthy, but there was a curious mixture in the overall mood.
A mixture of the surreal, the evocative, and the frankly a little sick-making as the screen frequently lapsed from the representations of the mundane, if picturesque, day to day of the hamlet to such sights as bread baked into lewd shapes, dirty foot sucking and a middle-aged dominatrix relishing the fantasy of punishing the two husbands who left her a widow. There was a sense that the film in its attempts to match the richness of Thomas' language was becoming overripe and finally going off badly, much of what was dreamt up wasn't especially necessary to appreciate the poet’s words and often came across as aspiring to be something the visuals could never be as redolent of as the source's exquisite lines were. But if that were the case, at least they were having fun with it and not being over-respectful; Rhys Ifans and Charlotte Church were the most famous faces in the cast, but each and every one spoke the dialogue with relish and none stood out too badly as out of place. There was nothing quite like hearing the original in a darkened room, but if you really had to have pictures to go with it, this had its own personality too. Music by Mark Thomas.