Solomon & Gaenor

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Solomon & Gaenor

Proof again that Romeo & Juliet is the most malleable of romantic tragedies, Solomon & Gaenor—a typically middling nominee for the Best Foreign Language Oscar—transposes the play to turn-of-the-century Wales, casting Welsh Christians and Orthodox Jews as the Capulets and Montagues. It's a neat fit, given the enormous tension between the two parties, which is further aggravated when a miner's strike allows strong anti-Semitic sentiments to bubble to the surface. But in a way, it's almost too neat, following the blueprint so closely that every turn seems rote and predictable. What passion remains is due entirely to the lead performances by Ioan Gruffudd and Nia Roberts, who invest unfettered emotion and heart into characters who have apparently never read Shakespeare, or are just too naïve to guess how their story will play out. The two meet when Gruffudd, the son of Russian Jews who own a pawnshop and drapery service, goes door-to-door selling cottons to the Welsh villagers. Though she's immediately attracted to him, Roberts' dogmatic Christian family has ideas about whom they want her to marry, so the affair is carried out in a mostly clandestine fashion. But Gruffudd's truly dangerous secret—his Jewish identity—is kept to himself, believing that if he were ever found out, the consequences would be severe. The lengths he goes to conceal his Jewishness and his denial about the ultimate impact of his lie on their relationship is the only novel aspect of Solomon & Gaenor, because for him to put his desire over her well-being punctures his nobility. But director Paul Morrisson doesn't explore this angle with much complexity, nor does he draw out the particular tensions between the Welsh and the Jews during the period. Without these important details, Solomon & Gaenor becomes yet another undistinguished, tradition-of-quality love story, spoiled by a ridiculously over-the-top ending that owes less to Shakespeare than a novelty hit by The Proclaimers.