Solomon and Gaenor

on August 25, 2000 by Charles Martin
   The story of star-crossed lovers and the clash of family values was a dramatic standard centuries before William Shakespeare made it his own in "Romeo and Juliet." While not borrowing the Bard's dialogue, this reworking of that famous tale recreates some of his poetry and magic in a beautifully-photographed and original setting that infuses what might otherwise be a by-the-numbers tale with the ring of truth.

   Solomon (Ioan Gruffudd) is the pride and joy of a hardworking immigrant Jewish family struggling through life in their new country of Wales. Gaenor (Nia Roberts) is the domesticated daughter of an iron-fisted patriarchal family whose fate, like everyone else's in the valley, is tied to the coal mine. Solomon is drafted by his father to become a "pacman," a door-to-door cloth salesman, when times get hard. Once over the mountain, Solomon is quickly over the moon with Gaenor. Both must deceive their families--and themselves--to make their quick-blooming romance work. He must hide his Jewish heritage; she must continue the facade of piety and contentment with her arranged fiancé, Noah (Steffan Rhodri). Both the lovers know their affair is doomed, but they cannot help themselves. Tripping over their own web, they find themselves with child and cast out of their respective communities--but rather than a happy ending, Shakespeare is served and tragedy triumphs.

   What is remarkable about this film--saddled as it is with the burden of such a well-known plot on its shoulders--is simply this: Once again, it works. Writer/director Paul Morrison's replacement of Shakespeare's lofty prose with melodic Welsh and Yiddish is a brilliant maneuver. The convincing and eloquent portrayals by the cast join perfectly with the difficult and rigid lifestyle of a coal community in 1911, and give the film a warmth and a complexity so lacking in similar Hollywood efforts. The climax (strongly reminiscent as it is of "Titanic") is handled with finesse and elegance, and is sure to bring a tear to even the most critical eye.

   By bringing the story so effectively to its foregone conclusion, Morrison overcomes the expected predictability and manages to create an enchanting journey which almost any audience should find delightfully tragic. That said, older and Jewish crowds in particular will enjoy the many rich layers the filmmaker (aided by the haunting cinematography of Nina Kellgren and the versatile score of composer Kant Pan) has added to this oft-told tale. "Solomon and Gaenor" uses historic cultures and harsh settings to breathe new life into a classic story of love and loss. Starring Ioan Gruffudd, Nia Roberts, David Horovitch and Maureen Lipman. Directed and written by Paul Morrison. Produced by Sheryl Crown. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. English-, Welsh- and Yiddish-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 102 min

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