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Dylan Thomas: Return Journey (1990)

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Terrific Visual Record of a Remarkable Impersonation
20 October 2015 | by (London) – See all my reviews

Directed by Sir Anthony Hopkins, Dylan THOMAS: RETURN JOURNEY is a fine visual record of a stage performance given by actor Bob Kingdom, where he impersonates Dylan Thomas giving one of his readings late on in life as he struggled to make money by touring the United States.

Although Kingdom might not resemble Thomas facially, he has a remarkable ability to recreate the poet's stage persona: the wrinkling of the face, the precise, modulated tones oscillating between BBC English and Welsh English; the sheer delight in the sound as well as the sense of words. We understand Thomas's enduring attraction as an artist; he was not just a great writer but a notable performer as well. Had he lived long enough, he would most certainly have become a television star.

This fifty-minute monologue comprises a series of Thomas's poems and stories. They reveal the poet's gift for storytelling as well as his acute sense of place and time we actually feel as if we are sharing the experiences of childhood such as going on a charabanc ride to Porthcawl with a bunch of men determined to drink themselves to distraction; or contemplating the fact of death that comes to us all. Thomas had a gift for creating suggestive combinations of words, and Kingdom has great fun enunciating them, as well as playing all the roles in some of Thomas's more colorful stories.

Hopkins directs unobtrusively, giving full rein to Kingdom's talents through regular use of close-up, as well as intercutting between different images of the actor as he essays different roles. The setting is minimal; what matters more is for viewers to listen to as well as watch the actor as he mesmerizes us.

Sadly Dylan Thomas was never filmed in performance, although sound recordings have been issued commercially. RETURN JOURNEY provides the next best thing. Through Kingdom's wondrous characterization we at last have some idea of what it must have been like to attend one of the poet's legendary readings.


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