|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.
& 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
Mark Lewis Jones
Bethan Ellis Owen