There's a Tom & Viv style tale to be told about the volatile relationship between womanising, hard drinking Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and libidinous spitfire Irish wife Caitlin. That film, however, is more likely to be the one by Marc Evans, starring Miranda Richardson and Rosamund Pike as the older and younger Caitlin. As the opening shot of Keira Knightley's airbrushed features as she serenades in an air raid shelter makes it abundantly clear, it's certainly not John Maybury's.
Knightley's mother, Sharman Macdonald, wrote the screenplay, intending the Caitlin role for her daughter. However, clearly sensing where the focus lay, Knightley insisted on playing Vera Phillips instead, a peripheral character from Thomas's past whose path briefly interlocked with the couple's lives during the war. Despite the lack of any biographical grounding, she also opted to make her a singer. Hopefully any Scarlett Johansson ambitions end there.
Events take place during the Blitz, Thomas (Matthew Rhys) in London reluctantly writing BBC propaganda scripts when he meets former childhood sweetheart Vera in a pub. His old flames flare back into life, complicated by the fact she forms a close friendship with the merrily unfaithful Caitlin (Sienna Miller) and, later, strikes up a relationship with William Killick (Cillian Murphy), an officer who falls for her when he sees her sing.
When the Thomases are kicked out of Caitlin's sister's after he urinates in a family heirloom, Vera takes them in. Then, when they relocate to neighbouring cottages in muddy Wales, now married to Killick who's been sent off to the front, she drains her husband's savings to bankroll them.
When he returns, discovering he's broke, shellshocked from his experiences, and suspecting his baby son is actually Dylan's, things naturally come to the boil. It only takes insensitive remarks about soldier heroes from Thomas and his pacifist friends to trigger a confrontation.
Through all this, it's Vera who takes centre stage and while there are some meaty scenes between the two women and one tender moment between the former lovers, Caitlin and, especially, Dylan are largely background characters in their own story.
As the tone veers from brooding romance to soapy melodrama to dull courtroom drama, and the look shifts between backdrop artifice and rain-sodden realism, it becomes increasingly difficult to engage with what are unsym-pathetic self-absorbed figures.
The performances, though, are strong. Despite being dramatically shortchanged, both Rhys and Murphy register strongly, the former capturing the impish soulfulness that made Thomas so charismatic despite being a complete bastard. It takes an actor of some repute to deliver a line like "I sleep with other women because I'm a poet" without sounding risible.
Knightley too is on form, giving good Welsh and demonstrating that she doesn't need lingering close ups to hold the attention.
But it's Miller who, in a role bafflingly originally slated for Lindsay Lohan(!), takes the lion's share of the honours, investing Caitlin with far more personable charm than she had in real life and wringing the emotion from the script, even when it resists.
Without her, the edge would be far blunter than it is.