Dylan Thomas Inspires a British Film Noir, "A Visit to America"

Dylan Thomas Inspires a British Film Noir, "A Visit to America"
Boyo at the BBC: Welsh poet Dylan Thomas will be trailed by a gumshoe in the movie "A Visit to New York."
(Courtesy BBC)

Do not go gently, or otherwise, into the rain-slicked, neon-lit streets of Manhattan ...

The great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who died of pneumonia in St. Vincent’s hospital at the age of 39 in 1953, will feature as a private eye’s quarry in the upcoming film noir “A Visit to America.”According to Screen Daily, the British production company Western Edge has acquired the rights to a screenplay written by Owen Sheers, Thomas’s countryman and a fellow poet, playwright, and screenwriter.

Sheers has previously had two screenplays filmed: “Resistance,” adapted from his novel, speculated what would have happened had the Nazis invaded Wales during World War II; “The Gospel of Us” (2012) is a contemporary Passsion Play. Sheers has also written journalism, presented arts programs on television and radio, and he has played the World War I poet Wilfred Owen on stage.

“A Visit to America” will be filmed in New York next year and released in 2014 to coincide with the Thomas centenary. It follows the detective, who’s “having a personal and professional crisis,” writes Screen’s Wendy Mitchell, as he trails Thomas during the McCarthy witchhunts.

His interest in Thomas presumably derives from the poet’s Marxist leanings. "Society to adjust itself has to break itself; society... has grown up rotten with its capitalist child, and only revolutionary socialism can clean it up,” he wrote in a letter in 1934. The same year, he observed: “I take my stand with any revolutionary body that asserts it to be the right of all men to share, equally and impartially, every production of man … from the sources of production at man’s disposal.”

Although Thomas once avowed he “could go to Russia with a Welsh Communist organization,” it is not known if he was a card-carrying member of the Party. An abridged 2003 Socialism Today article by Victor Paananen on Thomas’s beliefs and the socialist vision in his work can be read here.

Thomas has been portrayed in three previous movies and a 1978 British television drama, “Dylan,” starring Ronald Lacey, which depicted his chaotic, alcohol-steeped last days in New York, where he had come to give readings of his work. In John Maybury’s 2008 “The Edge of Love,” Matthew Rhys played him, opposite Sienna Miller as Thomas’s rambunctious wife Caitlin and Keira Knightley as his teenage sweetheart Vera Phillips. Its lack of success can be accounted for by Thomas being portrayed as an egocentric monster, catnip for the women though he is.

Excerpt from an "Arena" documentary on Dylan Thomas: