Solomon and Gaenor
review by Dan Lybarger, 15 September 2000

Little that happens in Solomon & Gaenor is surprising. Writer-director Paul Morrison borrows the motifs that run throughout previous stories like West Side Story and leaves them intact. From the first frame, everything that follows seems a foregone conclusion.

What keeps the film from stagnating is its setting. Solomon & Gaenor recounts the uneasy relationship between the native residents of Wales and the Jews who moved to the area at the turn of the twentieth century.  At that time, the natives lived in bleak villages where the mines barely supported the economies. The workers had an almost impossible time of trying to convince management to take their needs seriously. The merchant Jews are hardly better off than their neighbors. When the miners fall on hard times, no one can afford to buy the goods they sell. Nonetheless, the Welsh seem far more tolerant than the locals in their former homeland in Russia.

Young Solomon (Iaon Gruffud, Horatio Hornblower) tires of the drudgery of sitting around the house and keeping books while his relatives annoy him with the chanting of their prayers. When given the chance, he eagerly takes a job as a pacman, or wandering cloth merchant. Along his route, he finds himself smitten with a young chapel girl named Gaenor (Nia Roberts). Solomon may be infatuated, but heís not stupid. As he begins romancing her, he keeps his ethnicity a secret. One visit to her village is all he needs to know that Jews are still considered outsiders. They still pronounce, "Jew" as if it were an epithet. While he constantly fears discovery, Gaenor quickly reciprocates his affection. He gradually makes more frequent visits and even becomes acquainted with her family. Their relationship may be passionate, but the danger to both is constant. The two live in strict religious communities that donít warm to foreigners. The tension escalates when Gaenor becomes pregnant, and the mining economy worsens.

Where the tale goes from here is an easy guess. Still, Morrison creates a credible, if not terribly original atmosphere. Both communities are well-captured and sympathetic. The Welsh may be xenophobic in this film, but Morrison shows how life in the mines could instill that attitude. A solid, relatively unknown cast also helps. Gruffud and Roberts are comely but still look as if they might inhabit the landscape. Their previously unrecognizable faces make their stock characters more believable. The film also looks great without ever glamorizing the setting. Production designer Hayden Pearce and cinematographer Nina Kellgren create dozens of captivating landscapes that, while gorgeous, never detract from the bleak tone of the story.

While Solomon & Gaenor is executed nicely, the routine storyline becomes grating. Many of the revelation in the story arenít jolting as intended because they can be detected miles away. Solomon & Gaenor never really becomes universal because its environment is ultimately more memorable than its characters or story.

Written and
Directed by:

Paul Morrisson

Ioan Gruffudd
Nia Roberts
Sue Jones-Davies
William Thomas
Mark Lewis Jones
Maureen Lipman
David Horovitch
Bethan Ellis Owen
Adam Jenkins
Cyril Shaps
Daniel Kaye
Elliot Cantor
Steffan Rhodri
Emyr Wyn




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