Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Nia Roberts, Sue Jones-Davies
Director: Paul Morrison
Running Time: 104 mins
Solomon & Gaenor is a British film about a young Jewish man who falls in love with a local woman in a small Welsh village. However, in the early years of the twentieth century, anti-Semitic sentiment forces him to keep his religion secret, even from his newfound love.
Some films can do this type of tragic drama really well. Schindler’s List, The Pianist and others are great examples of how to balance a history of oppression with a personal and emotional story. Solomon & Gaenor, on the other hand, doesn’t manage that at all well. It may look like a solid drama, but it’s a film that suffers heavily from clunky pacing, dull writing and pretty wooden acting throughout, making it a very bland watch.
Now, of course a small Welsh film like this can’t compare with big-budget Oscar winners like Schindler’s List, but it does appear so much like blatant Oscar bait throughout. This was actually nominated for an Oscar (albeit in the Foreign Language category), which demonstrates exactly what this film is: a tragic drama that wants to tell a story about historical oppression of a minority that you’ve seen a million times before.
My biggest problem with Solomon & Gaenor is that it just felt completely lifeless throughout, despite its main objective being a proper tearjerker. It may have the dark and gritty look of a brutal historical drama, but that’s by no means enough to provide a truly emotionally affecting story, and that shines through in the painfully dull, clunky and predictable screenplay.
For one, the two main characters just aren’t interesting enough. The historical context aside, this film could have saved itself by being a passionate romantic drama, but there was next to nothing that made me really sympathise with either’s plight, or get me wrapped up in their tumultuous romantic relationship, meaning that the prime emotional core of the film was pretty much empty for me.
The way the film attempts to tell the history is pretty poor too. Yes, it goes through the beats of a historical drama and establishes its context pretty well, but beyond a purely factual basis, the film’s attempts to follow the formula of other historical Oscar winners are very unimpressive. Of course, uninteresting characters don’t help the historical side of the story, but whenever the film touches on the anti-Semitic attitudes of the locals, it just feels totally unconvincing, as if they just picked a religion at random to hate, and that’s the end of it.
There’s very little in this film to get excited about. Yes, there are times when its look can provide a little bit of interest, and the historical fact is at least moderately engaging, but in terms of being a properly tragic emotional drama, this is a big failure, and that’s why Solomon & Gaenor gets a 5.6 from me.