Sienna and Keira stand on the “The Edge of Love”


British drama The Edge of Love premiered in the U.K. last week at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and as a result its stars Sienna Miller and Keira Knightley have been posing for photographers. blogger StuntDouble was kind enough to share some of the pictures with me, including this one from the Edinburgh premiere:

And this one from the London premiere:

Set in the 1940s and focusing on a few years in the life of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, the film features Miller as Thomas’s wife Caitlin MacNamara, and Knightley as his former flame Vera Phillips.

Although actors Matthew Rhys (who plays Thomas) and Cillian Murphy (who plays Vera’s husband Captain William Killick) have important roles in the film, the marketing department has pretty clearly decided that the key selling point is the combined wattage of Knightley and Miller’s star power:

Looking at the poster, I can’t help suspecting that the marketing department is also trying to play up to the tabloid rumors of a lesbian liaison between the two women in the film. Those rumors have swirled ever since back in 2006, when Lindsay Lohan (who was then attached to star in Miller’s role) told MTV that “there’s somewhat of a lesbian undertone” in the relationship between Caitlin and Vera. Although screenwriter Sharman Macdonald (who also happens to be Keira’s mum) subsequently denied that the film would feature any overt lesbian sexuality, the possibility of Sapphic subtext was enough for me to keep an interested eye on the project.

Having now seen the film, I would have to say that it proves a bit disappointing both from a purely artistic and from a lesbianish point of view. Admittedly, Edge flirts with the idea of a relationship between Caitlin and Vera from the beginning: Having been introduced to each other in a London pub by Thomas, the two women retire to the bathroom – where, looking intently at Vera, Caitlin says “You’re one of those, aren’t you?” Looking horrified, Vera replies “I am not!” only to have Caitlin laugh and explain that she meant “one of those who never got over their first love” (i.e. Thomas). “Not that I’m averse,” Caitlin quickly adds – reflecting what is apparently a biographical truth: that MacNamara did experiment with women (as Miller has also recently told a reporter that she did at school).

As far as any overt reference to queer female sexuality goes, though, this is about as far as we get. The two women form a close friendship even as they become rivals over Thomas’s affections – and Sienna and Keira do share a chemistry, as can be seen in this scene where they talk head to head:

The early scenes also feature them sharing a bed and a bath together. And, once they have moved with Thomas from London to Wales (while Vera’s husband William Killick is away fighting in the Second World War), Caitlin looks at Vera thoughtfully and says “It’s a pity you’re not a man. If you were a man, I’d fancy you.”

But this “lesbian” aspect never becomes more than a slightly pointless tease, and the relationship never really becomes as moving as it ought to be, even from a sisterly point of view. And this is because of what is a problem with the film overall: it centers on too many people. A four-hander between Miller, Knightley, Rhys and Murphy, it is constantly shifting focus, from Vera’s romance with Thomas, to her friendship with Caitlin, to her romance with Killick, to the marriage between Caitlin and Thomas.

The result is that none of the relationships are developed in enough depth to make you deeply care about them. When Caitlin and Vera look each other in the eyes at the end of the film, having nearly been torn apart by their rivalry over Thomas, the film moves to a montage of home video footage of their time together (including a quick throwaway scene of them kissing on the lips). We are obviously meant to feel sadness for the loss of this great friendship. But the film simply hasn’t given Knightley and Miller enough screen time together in the second half to make you feel that their relationship was truly important.

What makes this a particular shame is that Miller gives a great performance as Caitlin – warm, strong, vital and sparky, she made me wonder why on earth Vera would bother with Rhys’s unlikeable Thomas when Caitlin was on offer. A closer and more exclusive focus on the affinity between the two women, while pleasing the lesbian fans, might also have just made a better movie.

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