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Love and Hate In 'Solomon'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 15, 2000


    'Solomon and Gaenor Ioan Gruffudd and Nia Roberts are "Solomon and Gaenor." (by Adrian Rogers/Sony Pictures Classics)
Love takes on the insular might of religious culture in "Solomon and Gaenor," an emotionally piercing "Romeo and Juliet" romance set in a Welsh mining town.

The movie, written and directed by Paul Morrison, is set in the Welsh coal valleys of the early 20th century, where men go to the pits by day, go to the pub for hard drinking at night, then show up scrubbed and clean for church on Sunday.

In this world lives Solomon (Ioan Gruffudd), a young Jew who sells fabric door to door, and whose devout, hard-working family runs a pawnshop and drapery.

When he falls in love with Gaenor (Nia Roberts), the daughter of a Christian, coal-mining family, he thinks only peripherally about the consequences.

As their initial flirtations become more serious, Solomon tells Gaenor his name is Sam Livingstone. He gives her a dress, free. He visits her family for tea, evasive about his background when Gaenor's father (William Thomas) asks probing questions.

Love grows quickly between these two young hearts. But it's just a matter of time before things get ugly. A lasting strike leaves many families openly resentful of the self-employed Jewish community. And when Gaenor becomes pregnant, the delicate walls of their secret relationship collapse.

Gaenor becomes the scourge of her parish and family. Both families are bound and determined this love shall not stand. And Gaenor finally discovers her lover's lies.

But it's going to take more than pregnancy, shame, romantic betrayal, pub beatings and family hostility to keep these two apart.

The film is not ambitiously cinematic; it comes across more as a television play than a movie. But it doesn't lack for emotional intensity or persuasive, three-dimensional characters. Morrison makes sure that both families, while intolerant about the affair, come across as decent people. Even Gaenor's brutish brother, Crad (Mark Lewis Jones), who beats Solomon bloody, has a glimmer of humanity.

But the proof of the romantic pudding comes from Gruffudd and Roberts, who exude vulnerability, whether they're sharing passions in their special meeting place, or facing overwhelming hostility. Without this special relationship, the movie would lapse into the muddy gloom of its setting. But both performers have an earnestness and simplicity that keep us hoping against hope for the outcome they deserve.

SOLOMON & GAENOR (R, 100 minutes) - Contains violence, nudity and cultural enmity. In English, Yiddish and Gaelic with subtitles. At the Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle and Cinema Arts Theatre.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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