Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet who was glorified for his writing but perhaps made even more famous for his drunken reputation, comes to life in Andy Goddard’s Set Fire to the Stars. Giving this film the label of a biopic does not do it any justice. The film examines the demons that plagued Thomas, those that made him both a genius and a scoundrel, but also explores his relationship with poet John Brinnin who attempted to assist Thomas in his cross over to the United States. The film’s central lead role is equally split between Brinnin and Thomas, told through their conflicts, their impact on one another, their professional relationship and their friendship. From New York to Yale University, we follow the duo as Brinnin attempts to prepare Thomas for his readings, risking his own career and happiness. The film’s tagline is ‘Never Meet Your Heroes’, a truly fitting description of what Set Fire to the Stars is all about. The true genius of this original character study resides in the way that Thomas is shown as the two men he truly was, an astounding artist and a troubled soul. We see Thomas’ flaws and we feel Brinnin’s frustration as his idol’s selfish attitude affects more than he seems to realise. Both men are stubborn and both men are bubbling with creativity, making their interaction fascinating to watch. Set Fire to the Stars is brimming with affection, obviously crafted by those with a love and passion for this previously unexplored story and relationship.
It is hard to find a technical fault with the film. A script that encapsulates Thomas’ eccentricity and wit plays alongside a truly stunning score, rich with organic sounds. Piano flutters in and out of the scenes enabling us to really feel the surroundings. The film is simultaneously enchanting, melancholic and humorous – surprisingly so. Elijah Wood expresses Brinnin’s frustration and anxiety so clearly that we feel constantly concerned for him. What Wood manages to do is show a real transformation of character. Brinnin, who initially seems cool and confident, becomes stressed and tense due to Thomas’ unpredictable moods and actions. Thomas is played by Celyn Jones. It is from Jones that the film’s real heart radiates. Jones is also the film’s writer and a clear admirer of Thomas. He understands exactly how to project Thomas, in all his forms, to the audience. The screening of Set Fire to the Stars was constantly alive with laughter and emotion. It was one of the most charming atmospheres I’ve experienced in a cinema in quite some time. Joining the Edinburgh Film Festival audience for the screening, as well as a Q and A session, Wood, Jones and Goddard were able to share even more about their film and what they had wanted to achieve. It makes no sense that a film as heartfelt and artistic as Set Fire to the Stars was shot in 18 days, but it was. The cast and crew’s enthusiasm for the project was evident and, furthermore, comes across in a very unique movie that delights from start to finish.
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