Set Fire to the Stars review – catastrophe looms as Dylan Thomas arrives in US

The story of how the poet was lured to the States and set off down the road to ruin fails to engage

This odd, undeveloped movie is about the minor American critic and poet John Malcolm Brinnin, who in the 1950s had the distinction of first bringing Dylan Thomas to the US for a campus reading tour, and so possibly setting the great poet on the road to a booze-soaked catastrophe. Thomas is the hard-drinking bohemian (no-one said “alcoholic”) and Brinnin and his pursed-lipped academics are the uptight folks about to get shaken up. Co-writer Celyn Jones plays Thomas and Elijah Wood is Brinnin, forever doing that tragic stricken-deer expression, as he watches Thomas about to launch into another self-destructive spree. He says things such as: “We only have three days until Yale! We need to make sure you’re ready!” It’s a good-looking film, shot expressively in black-and-white, but in some ways it’s like a sketch for a stage play. Both Brinnin and Thomas are curiously unestablished characters: we don’t get to know or care much about either of them. The drama implies that, in some sacrificial sense, the melancholy wildman Thomas finally releases something emotional in Brinnin – but what? There is an interesting double cameo from Kevin Eldon and Shirley Henderson as two upstate neighbours who come for dinner.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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