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Heroes of 2014: Dylan Thomas, a poet brought back to life | Simon Jenkins

He may have died in 1953, but the BBC dramatisation of Under Milk Wood brought Thomas’s work afresh to a 21st-century audience

Dylan Thomas’s 2014 centenary saw a predictable gush of adjective-drenched, misanthropic verse. Much did not go fast enough “into the dying of the light” for my taste. But one tribute stood out amid the gloom: BBC Wales’s dramatisation of Under Milk Wood, with a gathering up of 37 Welsh celebrities. The casting was absurdly glamorous: Tom Jones as Captain Cat and Katherine Jenkins as an implausibly floor-scrubbing Polly Garter. The vignettes were superb and brought each line of poetry to life. Bryn Terfel was an eloquent Reverend Eli Jenkins, Charlotte Church a stern Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard and Jonathan Pryce and Siân Phillips the murderous Mr and Mrs Pugh. Michael Sheen, Ioan Gruffudd, Griff Rhys Jones and Kimberley Nixon all put in appearances.

The fact that most of the cast were beamed into Laugharne from wherever they were on duty – Cardiff, London, New York, Los Angeles, even Craig Roberts in a limousine – caricatured the production, but only as Thomas himself caricatured his home town. They lent the place a strange dignity. The power of the word elevated the petitbourgeois ambitions, lusts, jealousies and memories of Under Milk Wood, as Pip Broughton’s camera wrapped the roofs, streets and interiors in Thomas’s rich imagery. Never has the screen paid such a compliment to poetry, or poetry to the screen. For some reason the BBC broadcast this minor masterpiece just once and it is gone.

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