Set Fire To The Stars focuses on one week in the life of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Celyn Jones), as he battles his alcoholic demons, and his friendship with John Brinnin (Elijah Wood), the man who has staked his career on Thomas.
Director Andy Goddard has brought some big hitters in for this Thomas biopic in the Welsh legend’s centenary year. Shot in black and white cinematographer Chris Seager recreates 1950s New York and Brinnin’s snow-covered Connecticut retreat in monochrome perfection. It’s even more astounding when the picture was shot entirely in Wales.
The tagline of the film warns – never meet your heroes – and from the moment Dylan Thomas steamrollers into the fussy, meticulous Brinnin’s life, that epithet rings true as he becomes a babysitter and doctor for his hero. Rather than learning at the feet of the master, Thomas is a barely functioning alcoholic who makes Oliver Reed look like a lightweight and is drinking himself to death in front of our eyes.
Jones (who also wrote the script) is outstanding as Thomas. By turns loud and brash, worldly and childlike. Though Goddard gives us doubts about him as a man, a father, a husband and a friend, we are left in no doubt as to his talent which is unparalleled.
A true two-hander of a film, Wood and Jones shine when they are taken out of the city and head to Brinnin’s family cabin in Connecticut. Odd neighbours aside (Kevin Eldon and Shirley Henderson) provide a change to the academia Brinnin generally moves in. Your heart break for Brinnin when each time he seems to have Thomas back on track he implodes in spectacular fashion.
The ghostly presence of Thomas’ wife Caitlin through a letter he refuses to open and later, through a vision which reduces him to a wreck,
Both Wood and Jones are excellent. Jones as the burdened man-child, drinking himself to death and living in the moment and Woods as the arch, angular and fussy Brinnin. The friendship that develops between the two, although inevitable, is nevertheless genuine. Those unfamiliar with the life or poetry of Thomas will certainly be intrigued by his ability to stir the emotions.