(Welsh, Yiddish and English dialogue)
A Romeo & Juliet tale set in the Welsh Valleys in 1911, “Solomon and Gaenor” is a small but affecting picture. The more comfortable home for this well-written and well-acted drama about a Welsh girl and a Jewish lad is probably the tube, though it could find small-scale business in the right territories.
Solomon (Ioan Gruffudd) meets Gaenor (Nia Roberts) when selling clothing fabric door-to-door. He can hardly speak Welsh, having been brought up in an English-speaking town, and hides his Jewish identity, posing as Sam Livingstone. She’s an outwardly demure, inwardly resolute daughter of a traditional working-class family, with a dour father (William Thomas) and beer-swilling, Jew-hating brother (Mark Lewis Jones).
Tension is rising in the community as a pit strike looms, and only after she becomes pregnant by Solomon does Gaenor learn his true ethnic identity. The couple decide to flee together, but become separated during anti-Jewish riots.
With most of the actors limning racial stereotypes (including Maureen Lipman in one of her patented oy-vey performances), the movie is largely kept going by its two central characters, who are involvingly etched by Gruffudd and Roberts sans cuteness and without losing the fairy-tale simplicity that first-time director-writer Paul Morrison clearly intends. Ilona Sekacz’s filigree, raindrop-like score is nicely attuned to the picture, which realistically evokes its pre-WWI period on limitedmeans.
Pic is filmed with simplicity and precision, accentuating a technically elaborate final shot.