Knightley, Miller star in romantic U.K. film

One of the best things about spending two months in London this summer was getting access to the culture and art of the U.K.

The Brits have a lot of quality to offer. And their films are no exception.

“The Edge of Love”, a film directed by John Maybury, takes place in Britain mid-World War II, and centers on the lives of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys), his wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller), Vera (Keira Knightley), a friend of the couple and old girlfriend of Thomas’s and William (Cillian Murphy), Vera’s soldier husband.

Atonement has allowed Knightley to prove that the romance-in-the-’40s routine works well for her, and she’s broken out the red lipstick once more here. (Even the old line “Come back to me” resurfaces a few times.)

The Edge of Love, while less competent than Atonement visually, has done a much better job of investigating the complexities of its characters and invoking a range of emotions that aren’t always straightforward.

The acting was superb, and the atmosphere, which alternated between gritty, dreamy, and glamorous, reflected the highly tempestuous characters themselves.

A few scenes suffered from directing that seemed to simply go along with the occasional trite line of dialogue.

For instance, in one scene, a German shell strikes the nightclub where Vera and William are sharing a dance.

The effect of these jolting, violent shots is undercut, though, when outside the club, a weeping Vera clings passionately to William and whispers, “Make love to me.”

Right. Aside from the unfortunate “Terminator” sex-as-battle-rages association forming in my mind, this line and the subsequent hazy, close-up flesh shots seemed to shift the focus of our emotions too suddenly.

The power of the scene had been hanging well until then, but the scene ends up feeling sugary and even plain gratuitous.

Another element of this movie that may not have come off as planned was its treatment of Dylan Thomas.

Knightley mentioned in a recent interview that she found all of the characters sympathetic, saying “I thought what was wonderful about the writing was that you can empathize with all of them whilst realizing that what they do is sometimes not right.”

But Thomas, for me, emerged as nothing more that a self-absorbed child, a lazy bully whose only redeeming quality, it seemed, was the beauty of the poetry being voiced-over in a few scenes.

We don’t see his appeal as both Caitlin and Vera fall for him, and by the end I found myself secretly feeling smug when I remembered that the real Thomas had died at age 39.

In spite of that, the remaining three characters do challenge us to deal with their complexities, their mistakes and the pain they inflict on others.

Even Murphy, whose unnerving looks have gotten him cast in an inordinate number of psychopath roles in the past, garners enough sympathy to break your heart.

But the real power of this movie came from its two leading women, Miller and Knightley.

I’m sure the names of these two actresses were calculated to bring in maximum audiences, but both women seem determined to justify their statuses as megastars, and both give stunning performances.

Knightley pulls off some lovely shots as a singer for soldiers in the London Tube and snaps with wit and a generous, self-conscious personality.

Miller, as the joyous but volatile Caitlin, was even better, flinging herself headlong into a character who alternates between experiencing crushing jealousy and bitter loneliness and turning cartwheels for Tommies in a pub.

A jolly good show with only a few complaints.

And in London, for only £3.50, that was downright spectacular.

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