A Poet in New York, which aired on BBC America, is a 2014 television movie that focuses on the last days of famous poet Dylan Thomas’ life. The movie follows Thomas’ tragic downward spiral into drugs and alcohol, while exploring his dreadful relationship with his wife, Caitlin. The show stars Tom Hollander as Dylan Thomas, Phoebe Fox as Liz Reitell and Essie David as Caitlin Thomas. Other known actors make an appearance as well including Ewen Bremner and Demetri Goritsas.
From the very beginning, after Dylan makes his way to New York City, the film is very bleak. The chaos has already begun and nothing is going to stop it. Thomas is already dabbling into all-night alcohol binges, sleeping around on his wife and smoking constantly, despite wheezing every few minutes. Despite all of this, Dylan makes a successful appearance in front of an audience, as he reads from his poem about his childhood, which brings us back to a happier and more stable time in Dylan’s life.
Of course, we soon found out that Dylan’s childhood wasn’t much better than his current life. Growing up, he faced ridicule from other children, which likely drove him to success. After passing out, Dylan visits a doctor, who informs him that he needs to quit drinking alcohol, while he is on the prescribed medication. Of course, Dylan is against the idea and likely won’t follow the doctor’s orders.
Despite his success as a poet, Dylan is still facing money problems. He feels like everyone and everything is against him, including John Malcolm Brinnin, Dylan’s agent. Perhaps it is paranoia, but famous figures are often abused and used, by their agents and so-called friends. Regardless of his condition, Dylan continues pushing forward, as if nothing is wrong.
The scenes of New York City are a perfect backdrop for this depressing drama. Dylan’s depression deepens, as he continues drinking and smoking heavily each day and reminiscing about better days, with his wife, Caitlin. The jazzy background music definitely helps to set the somber mood. Before his departure to New York, Dylan and Caitlan are at each’s throats. With troubles brewing up, it appears their home life has become chaotic and volatile.
Dylan’s childhood flashbacks continue growing more disturbing. It appears that his asthma is something he’s suffered with from his youthful days, along with verbal abuse. Although some of the backdrops of New York don’t look so realistic, they’re dark, barren and definitely help to push the mood onto the viewer. Regardless of his personal struggles with his depression and health, Dylan continues carrying on, as if nothing is wrong. Despite being a shell of himself, he continues to maintain his strong charisma and artistic abilities. However, outside of his performances, it seems that Dylan’s confidence, in his artistic endeavors, has diminished and he no longer believes himself to be a true poet.
As the movie continues, so does the drinking, smoking and sleeping around. Dylan is obviously on a dangerous track and nobody is going to pull the emergency break. A derailment is imminent and Dylan is likely going to be the single casualty.
Despite supportive friends and onstage success, Dylan’s inner struggles continue and he begins pushing everyone away. After drinking and bringing home a new female friend, Dylan goes off on a rant about Caitlin, which is much of the same thing he did to Liz. It is heartbreaking to see Dylan hit rock bottom and admit that he is a disappointment in himself. Of course, his bad behavior will likely not stop and will probably only continue to grow worse.
Caitlin wants money and she wants it now. Finally, Dylan lines up a new contract, which will side step John Malcolm Brinnin. At this point, he probably feels that he doesn’t have much of a choice. As he signs the paperwork, there is no turning back. He’s signed his soul away and quite possibly destroyed his friendly relationship with John and of course Liz doesn’t seem to happy either. Dylan begins to question why death takes so long, which is a nice gesture of foreshadowing.
Dylan’s poems and the scenes of his dying father and mentor continue pushing the movie to Dylan’s final end. Despite it all, Dylan continues to hasten the race to his death. Dylan’s descent continues to worsen, with another passing out, excessive drinking and more wheezing. In the end, despite Dylan’s treatment of John and Liz, they remain by his side. Caitlin arrives and shows little regret or sadness about the situation, until she sees Dylan. However, she blames everyone else for Dylan’s troubles. In classic fashion, Caitlin attempts to light a cigarette in Dylan’s room, which shows her true concern.
In the end, Caitlin’s guilt is clear, as she is hauled out of the room kicking and screaming. The final scenes were satisfying, yet depressing.
A Poet in New York is a classic retelling of a brilliant mind spiraling into depression. We’ve seen it time and time again. As the old saying goes, all of the great ones die yet. The story doesn’t deviate much here. However, what we get is a look at Dylan’s specific case, his struggles, successes and his demise. I knew the ending was coming and had seventy some odd minutes to prepare for it. Regardless, the ending was still somber and sad.
The New York City scenery and the slow jazzy music definitely helped to set the bleak mood, while the characters carried the story and kept the dialogue interesting. Tom Hollander’s performance, as Dylan Thomas, was certainly strong and worthwhile. I definitely enjoyed the movie as a whole. This classic tale retold from a different perspective deserves a 8.5 out of 10.