Volume 6, Issue 2

(November 2009)

Issue Contents

Past Issues

Small Town on the Big Screen: The Edge of Love and the Local Experience

Merris Griffiths,
Aberystwyth University, UK



In May 2007, The Edge of Love (Dir: John Maybury) was filmed in the small town of New Quay in Ceredigion, West Wales. The film recounts the time that Dylan Thomas lived in the town, with an emphasis on the relationship between the two women in his life. As such, it has a very particular local ‘value’. In July 2008, the film was screened for one night only for a locals-only audience at the town’s ‘cinema’. This article recounts the filming activities and presents a snap-shot of the screening event by mapping audience responses to the text.


Key issues are explored which include levels of audience participation (as extras and/or spectators), motivations for wanting to see the film, the nature of meaningful attachments to the film text, and the reasons for ‘rejecting’ the film. The importance of locality, community and nostalgia become strikingly apparent, as does the complexity of Dylan Thomas’s connection with the town and the nature of the historically embedded, local understandings and memories of the poet.


Key wordsThe Edge of Love, local audience, local cinema, meaning-making, participation, Dylan Thomas




The links between social context, individuals and identity formation have been theorised and variously explored across multiple academic disciplines for many years (see, for example, Deaux & Philogène, 2001). Often, in the broad field of media and cultural studies, the interrelationships between these factors can help to explain processes of ‘meaning-making’ and by association the nature of audiences’ responses to various media encounters (cf. Jenkins, 1992).


The aim of this article is to capture a piece of ‘social history’ by recording a snap-shot of a one-off film event in 2008 – a locals-only screening of The Edge of Love in the small coastal town of New Quay, Ceredigion (West Wales) – and to disentangle some of the ways in which audience members made sense of and responded to the film. The nature of the dynamic between people, place and film-text was considered particularly rich and intriguing in this context, operating on a number of levels. The film itself is concerned with a significant period in the town’s history, when poet Dylan Thomas lived there with his family. The film was also shot on location in the town in 2007 and many of the local residents had been ‘participants’ in the filming process (as either extras or spectators). The film was screened in the old town ‘cinema’ for one night only, ensuring a sense of ‘full circle’ for the production and consumption of the text. Finally, from a participant observer perspective, my position as both researcher and town ‘local’ added an additional layer to the processes of sense-making and interpretation. These factors combined arguably produce a unique, locally specific reading of the film text and this article aims to map out audience responses in relation to notions of ‘place’ and articulations of ‘identity’.


The multifaceted nature of identity construction – be it individual or collective – can be positioned in relation to established socio-psychological theories about sense-making and the self. The core ideas are interestingly explored by Kay Deaux (in Deaux & Philogène, 2001: 312ff.), who proposes a kind of ‘spectrum’ of social/identity negotiation and asks some interesting questions about individual identities in relation to larger social systems (which, in the case of this study for example, would include local communities). Deaux draws together three key (ultimately interlinked) ways in which ‘identity’ can arguably be sketched – as ‘a social location’ (Duveen, in Deaux & Philogène, 2001: 257ff.), in terms of ‘the individual’ (Breakwell, ibid: 285ff.) and as part of a ‘psychosocial identity’ (Zavalloni, (ibid: 285ff.).


Deaux effectively illustrates that there is no such thing as a ‘single vision’ of social representation/identification, but rather a more complex ‘joint encounter’ of multiple, interlocking factors (ibid: 312). By placing this investigation of local film reception in the context of Deaux’s proposed ‘spectrum’, a number of linked meaning-making processes emerge. On a ‘social location’ level, for example, conceptions and representations of ‘the town’ in terms of its make-up, its resident ‘characters’ and the way in which it stands for ‘home’ are all significant. This might extend to the local county, with its perceived collective mindset and its customs, traditions and habits. More tentatively, it might even incorporate ‘shadows’ of Dylan Thomas and the shared memories and myths that anchor interpretations of him and, by association, readings of the film.


At the level of ‘individual’, audience responses to the film might depend on how individuals see themselves located within their community (in terms of roles, characteristics and relationships) or the extent of their first-hand experiences of ‘town history’. Indeed, ideas about what it means to be ‘local’ would have a powerful impact on one’s sense of belonging (or otherwise), and hence one’s right to comment about the town, its community and the on-screen representation as seen in the film. Finally, in terms of a ‘psychosocial identity’ – a point at which ‘social location’ and ‘individual’ intersect – considerations might include anything from individual mood at the time of the film screening through to such ‘external’ considerations as space, place and context, and relate to a sense of ‘belonging’.


The notion of a ‘middle ground’ in the relationship between media (film) and audiences is explored by Morley (2001: 433) who argues that ‘belonging’ is ‘no simple matter of disconnected, parallel processes’ but is rather a process of mediated negotiation whereby ‘spaces are simultaneously tied together by media messages’. The key point here would be to suggest that audience responses to such a ‘local’ film could be placed at various points on this socio-individualised spectrum; across the group as a whole (i.e. overriding patterns), in terms of personal reactions (i.e. one-off comments) and in reply to a specific film text (i.e. potential reading/s).


In many ways, this investigation can be usefully located in relation to Mills’s article, ‘My house was on Torchwood!’ which considered ‘the intersections between personal history, ideas of home and televisual representation… (how) personal knowledge affects readings of programmes… (and) the emotive nature of responses to representations’ (2008: 379). Mills considers some of the ways in which it is possible to make sense of feelings about place, identity and ‘the local’ in the context of the filming of the BBC’s sci-fi television drama series Torchwood in Cardiff, South Wales. He raises a number of thought-provoking points about how textual readings of the series can be influenced by understandings of where it has been filmed, and that sighting ‘the familiar’ on screen can impact on (local) viewers’ sense of connection to both the programme and the place.


However, it is worth noting that there are two fundamental differences between Mills’s article and the focus of this investigation which are likely to have an impact on audience readings of the film under review. Firstly,  Torchwood belongs to the sci-fi genre with its focus on ‘alien technology and other-worldly threats’ (Mills, 2008: 379), whereas The Edge of Love is a semi-fictionalised account of true-life events, recounting the time that Dylan Thomas lived in New Quay and imaging what might have gone on behind closed doors. The film is grounded in an actual history, making on-screen representations closely aligned with a tangible sense of ‘reality’. Its narrative, therefore, would arguably to be judged in terms of accuracy and authenticity; Torchwood, in contrast, belongs to an altogether different frame of reference that is once removed from ‘reality’.


Similarly, readings of Torchwood – as ‘cult viewing’ due largely to its spin-off association with Dr. Who – is more closely aligned to discourses relating to television fandom (see, for example, Hills, 2002) and, as such, may be placed in a particular audience ‘knowledge framework’ that demands intertextual connection-making between series and episodes. Fan cultures can not exist for single stand-alone films in the same way that they do for long-running television series, so it is arguable that making sense of audience responses to The Edge of Love works best as an interpretive ‘snap shot’ rather than trying to locate them in an established and richly layered ‘fan culture’ per se.



The Local Context: New Quay and Dylan Thomas


‘The film filled our lives for weeks during filming, and its release was eagerly awaited’ (Female respondent, aged 46-55)


On a local level, the relationship between Dylan Thomas and New Quay has always been a problematic one. Whilst the rest of the world seemingly idolised the sensitivities of an original and immensely talented poet, older generations in the town either told a very different story – of ‘a very self-centred, despicable little man’ (M1:56-65 [1] ) with little respect for those who showed him kindness and generosity – or, as David Thomas notes in his book about Thomas’s time in the county, were ‘uptight’ about him (2000: 24).


Many locals recall tales of Thomas’s drunken antics and the resultant debts he accumulated. Whilst his stay in a little house called Majoda was short – less than a year, from September 1944 to July 1945 (Thomas, 2000: 16) – the effects of his time as a ‘resident’ still resonate. There are numerous suggestions that Thomas’s most famous work, the radio play Under Milk Wood, is based on the town with its ‘fishingboat-bobbing sea’ (Thomas, 1954: 3) and its local characters (see Thomas, 2002). Older residents even recall the upset that Under Milk Wood caused at the time of publication; some locals apparently ‘recognised themselves’ in the text (F1:56-65). This point seems all the more sensitive when one considers that the radio play, much like Thomas’s precursor poem ‘Quite Early One Morning’, explored the idea of ‘the mad town’ (Davies, 1995: xvii-xxiii).


With the passing of time and the need to attract tourists to the area, Dylan Thomas’s status has been renewed, if a little uneasily, in the locality. The Dylan Thomas Trail, for example, is marketed by Ceredigion County Council as a unique selling point for the area, and New Quay accommodates a string of numbered blue plaques marking places of significance or interest that had some connection to the poet (Thomas, 2002). This uncomfortable history and the evident mixed-feelings routinely provoked at the mention of Thomas made the summer of 2007 a particularly intriguing time for the residents of the town. In May, a production team [2] arrived in New Quay to begin the process of filming The Edge of Love [3] .



On Location Filming

Various locations around the town and county were used (detailed in Appendix A); there was a buzz of local excitement and interest as barriers were erected and sets built.  ‘A-list’ actors were brought in to take the lead roles – Matthew Rhys as Dylan Thomas, Sienna Miller as Thomas’s wife Caitlin, Keira Knightley as Vera Killick, Thomas’s childhood friend/lover, and Cillian Murphy as William Killick, Vera’s husband. Paparazzi photographers also lurked with telephoto camera lenses, hoping to capture candid shots of the actors both on and off set (see Fig. 6, below).


Much of the filming process in the town involved a degree of disruption. The scenes shot on Towyn Road and in Bryneirin house, for example, meant that a whole road was blocked to the public (on 14th, 16th and 18th May, 2007). Likewise, the scene filmed in Church Street closed off the main road on the town’s one-way system (on 18th May), and the pier together with a large portion of the harbour beach also became a no-go area (on 15th May). The small sample of photographs below, reproduced with kind permission from Laura Harvey, gives an idea of the filming environment:




Fig. 1: Façade of Ffynnonfeddyg (home of the Killicks) Charlie’s Field, New Quay

Fig. 2: Majoda & Ffynnonfeddyg, Charlie’s Field, New Quay



Fig. 3: View of New Quay, as seen by Dylan Thomas from the original Majoda

Fig. 4: Policing the filming on the Harbour Beach



Fig. 5: Filming on New Quay Pier

Fig. 6: The paparazzi take note!



Somewhere in the region of 200 people from the local area were cast as ‘extras’ in the film, taking on roles as ‘townspeople’, ‘pub-goers’, ‘soldiers’, ‘train passengers’, ‘court room spectators’ and ‘jurors’. Others provided technical support, working as marshals, caterers and drivers. This level of active participation only served to intensify interest in the film and made many people feel as if they were an integral part of the production process (cf. Couldry, 2000).



Local Screening Event

There was little doubt, given the excitement surrounding the filming process in 2007, that the release of the finished product was eagerly awaited by the community. The film saw its ‘World Premier’ at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on 18th June 2008 with a simultaneous ‘Welsh Premier’ in Swansea (birth-place of Dylan Thomas) before opening in London on 20th June, followed by nationwide release on 27th June.


The New Quay community group Cei Dev [4] , in response to the levels of interest, set about organising a local screening of the film by resurrecting the once much-loved town ‘cinema’ (in the Memorial Hall) for one night only, for a locals-only audience. Funding was sought to cover the overall cost of staging the event (for hire of the Hall, additional seating, the film itself and the screening equipment needed). The Town Council agreed to donate £500 on condition that the event happened before 18th July [5] , serving to compound the idea of ensuring that it should be uniquely local and not be ‘diluted’.


The event was scheduled for Wednesday 9th July 2008 and 220 tickets went on sale the week before, selling out in just two days. There was little in the way of explicit publicity to promote ticket sales. Instead, word-of-mouth and ‘grapevine’ connections were relied upon; evidently to good effect. Such was the level of interest and ‘vocal’ expressions of disappointment from those who had failed to acquire tickets that an impromptu matinee was arranged at the very last moment, attracting a further 40 or so audience members. However, the main focus of local attention was most certainly on the evening screening of the film.



Method and Set-up: Managing the Investigation

Having grown up in New Quay, I had maintained an interest in the film since the on-location shooting and was intrigued by the likely reception of the finished text. The clamber for tickets compounded the realisation that studying this event would be ‘a unique and probably not-to-be-repeated experience’ (F2:46-55).


Given the finite number of tickets that had been sold (220) and the need to capture the maximum range of available responses, I decided that the best way to approach the study was to compile and distribute a questionnaire (reproduced in Appendix B). In searching for a basic questionnaire framework that had been tried, tested and deemed appropriate for research studies seeking to tease out the ‘meaningful attachments’ audiences can often have towards film texts, I decided to adapt one that had been previously utilised by Barker et al (2006). Much of the essence of their questionnaire seemed to capture what I was seeking to investigate in this study, although I chose to structure my approach differently and include scope for comment and reflection about first hand participation in the film-making process.


It was important to frame the approach in such a way that the respondents would feel part of a unique local phenomenon, so I made explicit reference to my being a ‘native’ of the town and that the aim of the study was to take a special snap-shot of a one-off event. This was quickly followed by basic demographic information (Name, Age-range and Sex) with the aim of determining whether any of these factors might explain emergent data patterns.


To retain a level of respondent-interest, the questionnaire included a mixture of quantitative and qualitative questions. Questions 1, 7 and 8 were attitude-scale based (using a 5-point Likert scale). Questions 2, 3, 4, 9 and 10 were open-ended, offering respondents the opportunity to express opinions and contribute any points that they considered important or significant. Finally, Questions 5 and 6 were ‘Yes/No’ questions, with an additional column for elaborated comment if desired. Limiting the questionnaire to ten questions also ensured that it could be printed – back-to-back – on a single sheet of A4 paper, making distribution economical and the task of completion not too onerous.


I contacted the individuals involved in the organisation of the event. They kindly agreed to let me distribute questionnaires on the night and to also utilise a local shop as a ‘deposit point’ [6] for completed responses. The very fact that I was a town ‘local’ invariably placed me in a position of privilege. One of the event organisers had known me for many years and made access to the audience easy. I also had life-long links with many of the audience members; most of them had witnessed me growing up or had grown up with me, leading many of them to comment that they ‘never usually did this sort of thing’ (M2:65+) but were happy to participate in the study because it was me asking the questions.


Questionnaires were distributed (in person) to all audience members as they entered the ‘cinema’ building. In this way, there was a level of guarantee that all individuals were ‘captured’ and given an opportunity to participate in the study if they wished, as well as to ask any questions about it. Out of the 220 questionnaires printed, 202 were distributed on the night. Respondents were given the option to complete and return the questionnaires immediately, or return via post/local deposit point within ten days of the event. Once distribution was complete, I took my place amongst the local audience members for the start of the film and utilised basic participant observation techniques to jot down details about the event, aiming to use the notes to later enhance my analysis of the questionnaire data (see, for example, Bertrand & Hughes, 2005; Sarantakos, 2005).



Initial Observations: General Atmosphere in the ‘Cinema’

The atmosphere on the night of the screening was filled with an excited energy. There was much chatter and local ‘gossip’ as old friends caught up on recent town events, and one or two local ‘characters’ made their presence felt with loud greetings before the hush of anticipation fell as the lights dimmed. As scenes of wartime London began to unfold on-screen, there seemed to be something very appropriate about viewing the film in a Memorial Hall, with its nostalgic post-war interior and smell of wood-polish; it was ‘very atmospheric’, as F10:56-65 noted (see Jancovich & Faire, 2003, for a discussion of the significance, for audiences, of the film-viewing context).


The audience members were politely silent for the first thirty minutes or so of the film, with some shuffling uncomfortably in their seats as the narrative was ‘slow to get going with the Blitz scenes’ (F3:65+). Suddenly, with a shift from London to Wales and the first stunning shot of New Quay headland with its rows of cliff-side terraced houses and turquoise bay (see Fig. 3, above) the audience erupted with cheers and applause! Attention seemed once more focused as people began to whisper to one another about recognised places and memories of the filming activities.


There was also a degree of preoccupation in wanting to ‘extra spot’ familiar faces in the background of scenes (cf. Mills, 2008: 387), with some exclamations of disappointment at the realisation that most extras did not make the final cut. In fact, the disappointment was felt keenly by those who realised that they did not make it beyond post-production. The applause for one local resident was all the more enthusiastic for the fact that she was the only clearly recognisable extra in the film; her close-up face shot as ‘train passenger’ lasted several seconds. Others became agitated and slightly disengaged from the film when they realised that they had been denied their moment of fame. Finally, as the closing credits rolled, the audience again cheered and clapped in appreciation of the film and the event as a whole.



Questionnaire Results

The questionnaire results will be reviewed in three parts. Firstly, the quantifiable data will be presented, signalling some of the broader patterns of response. Then, the ‘Yes/No’ questions with open-ended extenders will be reviewed as a means to bridge the quantitative-qualitative data. Finally, the qualitative responses will be presented thematically to represent a snap-shot of local audience attitudes and to allow the individual ‘voices’ to be heard (cf. Kuhn, 2002).



Quantitative Data

Of the 202 questionnaires distributed, a total of forty-nine were completed and returned (more or less evenly distributed via direct post and the local deposit-point), giving a respectable response rate of 24% and offering a reasonably representational record of those who attended the event. Table 1 (below) gives an overview of responses by demographic grouping:


Table 1: Basic Demographic Information


Age Category



Under 16


















Over 65







49 respondents in total

(220 questionnaires printed; 202 distributed = 24% response rate)



The film was rated a 15 Certificate, so it was not expected that it would draw many respondents from the ‘Under 16’ age group. During the event, one young boy made a paper aeroplane out of his questionnaire, so I was not surprised by the zero returns in this category. Numbers were certainly skewed in favour of older age groups – reflecting the character of the overall audience on the night of the screening and the population of New Quay more broadly – and there were many more responses from women than men. Some men deferred to their wives/partners as soon as I gave them a questionnaire, saying things like ‘she will do one for both of us’. A number of women also seemed to be attending the screening in all-female friendship groups, so the audience as a whole was female-dominated.


With regards attitudinal responses to the film (Question 1), audience members seemed more positive than negative. Of the forty-five respondents who indicated their take on the film (four chose not to mark the scale), only four considered it in the negative terms of ‘hardly enjoyable’ (N=3) or ‘not enjoyable at all’ (N=1). For the most part, responses were positive with eighteen people thinking the film ‘very enjoyable’ and a further seven thinking it ‘extremely enjoyable’. The remainder placed it in the middle of the scale as ‘reasonably enjoyable’ (N=16).


Of the two questions relating to the local screening experience (Questions 7 & 8), the consensus indicated that the viewing context resulted in a genuinely pleasurable evening. In reviewing responses relating to the experience of seeing the film in New Quay ‘cinema’, only three people indicated a negative response of either ‘hardly enjoyable’ (N=2) or ‘not enjoyable at all’ (N=1), with ‘very uncomfortable seats’ and ‘no leg-room’ (e.g. M1:46-55, F3: 26-35, F2:65+) cited as the main reasons for not liking the experience. Echoing the pattern of overall response to the film, the majority of audience members found the context of the screening to be either ‘very enjoyable’ (N=25) or ‘extremely enjoyable’ (N=13), with a further eight people thinking it ‘reasonably enjoyable’.


Likewise, a similar pattern emerged with regards the locals-only make-up of the audience, where twenty-one respondents considering it ‘very important’ and a further eleven considering it ‘extremely important’ that they saw the film in the company of other local people. A further twelve respondents thought it ‘reasonably important’, while only five people ventured the negative response of ‘hardly’. No one considered the locals-only screening ‘not at all’ important.



Bridging Quantitative and Qualitative Responses

Questions 5 & 6 featured both quantitative (Yes/No) and qualitative (open-ended) elements and focused on levels of involvement and interest in the film-making process in May 2007. As previously suggested, the engagement many local people had with the production process seemed to contribute to the ‘meaningfulness’ of and attachments to the finished text.


Whilst only a small minority of respondents signalled that they were extras in the film (‘Yes’: 3; ‘No’: 46), three extended comments indicated a level of regret and/or disappointment that this had not been possible e.g. ‘No – Did want to be though’ (M3:26-35). One respondent indicated that the excitement of being an extra had turned out to be rather pointless because ‘Most of the extras did not appear in the film. At all’ (F3:56-65). Likewise, one of the extras revealed that her contribution to a scene outside Towyn Chapel ended up ‘on the cutting room floor’ (F5:56-65), which was a bugbear expressed by others (discussed later).


Question 6 – concerned with following the filming activity – elicited many more responses, possibly because spectatorship was more accessible to the majority than actual participation as an extra. Just over half of the total sample (N=28) declared that they had indeed taken an interest in the filming and the production process was ‘framed’ in three key ways: comments about the town specifically and Wales more generally, expressions of varying levels of interest, and responses to the magic/monotony of the process.


Responses relating to the town and Wales were mixed. Some respondents believed that the film and filming process were an ‘excellent opportunity’ (F1:16-25), that ‘it was fun to have so much activity and celebrity factor in the village’ (F1:36-45) and that it was ‘a unique experience’ (F2:46-55). Others saw the enterprise as being ‘quite disruptive in parts (and) film stars not approachable’ (F2:56-65) and quite problematic in terms of how Wales more generally was represented. Doubts were expressed about the ‘image’ of Wales, given that filming took place during one of the wettest summers on record (F2:36-45; F6:65+) and there was a feeling that ‘New Quay wasn’t shown at its best’ (F2:56-65) or given sufficient screen-time (M4:46-55).


Levels of engagement seemed to operate on a sliding scale from passing interest to absolute dedication. Some respondents kept in touch with filming activities through ‘pub chat’ encounters (M2:26-35); others caught glimpses whilst going about their daily business in the town, and some went to look at the set in Charlie’s Field ‘after hours’ (M2:46-55) (see Figs. 1 & 2). By far the most dedicated spectators were a group of women who ‘became real “groupies”’ (F2:46-55) and made a point of following the filming activity around the different locations on a daily basis (cf., for example, Hills, 2002; Sandvoss, 2005). ‘Exciting’ was used frequently to describe the various goings-on.


Finally, respondents made reference to the production practices of the film industry. Many were fascinated by the first-hand experience of seeing the production process in action, enjoying all it: ‘Enjoyed seeing the costumes and how they made the artificial rain (at Lampeter Law Courts)’ (F4:26-35) and ‘Riveting – fascinating insight into film making’ (F5:56-65). One audience member further noted that ‘one would never have guessed the end product/scene’ (F1:56-65) by simply following the filming activity. Others were a little bemused by the process and did not seem especially impressed. The slow pace was noted (F1:56-65) and one respondent was flummoxed that the production crew did not think to check the tide times before attempting to film ‘down at the Quay’ (F13:65+).



Qualitative Responses

Essentially, the qualitative open-ended questions were designed to reveal something of the local people’s motivation for attending the film event (Question 2), as well as something of the nature of the meaningful attachments formed (Question 3) and/or the main reasons for ‘rejecting’ the film (Question 4).


Motivating factors for wanting to see the film

A clear pattern emerged when reviewing the reasons respondents stated for wanting to see the film, based on issues of ‘the local’, insights into a piece of town history and curiosity and/or enthusiasm about local participation in the film-making process.


The main motivation related to the ‘New Quay connection’ and location-based shooting, which was mentioned by thirty-nine respondents. Comments generally related to ‘the strong link with New Quay’ (M3:46-55, M4:46-55), ‘being a resident’ (F4:65+), wanting ‘to see how New Quay was portrayed in the film’ (F3:26-35) and enjoying a sense of pride that it was filmed locally (F9:65+) (cf. Mills, 2008: 390). The use of location – in the cinematic sense – was also a thrill and it appeared to be taken-for-granted that the audience members ‘of course (wanted) to see our beautiful location’ (F8:56-65) ‘on (the) big screen’ (F9:56-65), with comments about how ‘beautifully shot’ things were (F5:65+).


Following on from the sense of locality, twenty respondents mentioned an interest in ‘local history’, ‘Dylan Thomas’ and the account of a ‘true story’ as explored in the film. The mixed feelings about Dylan Thomas were clearly attached to levels of intrigue about wanting ‘to see the life and times’ of the man (M3:46-55) and ‘to learn more about the complex characters’ (F8:56-65) who played such a crucial role during the time that Thomas lived in the town. One respondent tapped into the shadowy local whispers about the man by explaining that she had ‘heard so much about him’ (F5:26-35), whilst another noted that such whispers had sparked her ‘curiosity’ (F8:65+). Others took pleasure in seeing familiar-sounding or well-known ‘incidents’ in local history played out on screen – F7:56-65 ‘knew the story in detail’ while F5:65+ said that there were ‘no surprises!’


One of the main points of interest about Thomas’s stay in New Quay related to what has conventionally become known as the ‘shooting incident’ at Majoda (explicitly mentioned by two respondents – M3:65+ and F4:56-65 – and implied by others). This incident formed a pivotal point in the film, where William Killick – in a state of post-traumatic stress after his return from war and angry that his family’s money had been devoured by the Thomas’s – turned his army-issue gun on Majoda and opened fire (see Thomas, 2000: 115ff.). This incident, in particular, seemed to epitomise the perceived wild recklessness of Thomas and those who knew him, and has been a point of local intrigue for many years.


Of lesser significance, but still frequently mentioned (by nine respondents), was a clear interest in ‘extras’. Some respondents wanted to see if they themselves had made the final cut. Others wanted to see people they knew on-screen and ‘to see what roles the local extras were given’ (M1:56-65).  One respondent wanting to eavesdrop on ‘comments made by extras during the performance’ (M2:46-55), which was only possible given the locals-only nature of the screening.


A further four comments were made about wanting to see the ‘final cut’ after following the filming in 2007. There was a level of interest in ‘what the writer and director made of the story and how they produced it’ (F2:36-45). The investment many people had made in watching the filming process clearly drove them to want to see the finished product. Finally, one respondent nostalgically mentioned being a regular at the ‘cinema’ some ten years previously (before its closure in 1997) and wanted to repeat the ‘charming retro experience’ (M3:26-35).



The nature of meaningful ‘attachments’

Interestingly, contradictory takes of the film emerged (much like the contrastive film reviews that appeared in the popular press around the time of its release [7] ), whereby the basis of ‘attachments’ and ‘rejections’ were often mirror-opposites of one another. The favoured elements of the film for some respondents were, for others, the reasons why they did not like it.


By far the most prevalent category of ‘attachment’ related to ‘New Quay’ (N=21) ‘local scenery’ (N=4) and ‘cinematography’ (N=4). A number of individuals noted ‘The location, setting and outstanding scenery’ (M3:46-55), ‘Seeing the shots of the bungalow overlooking the sea and the other glimpses of New Quay’ (F3:65+) and the fact that ‘The cinematography… looked fantastic’ (F1:16-25; F2:26-35). One respondent commented on ‘seeing my favourite view (New Quay as seen from Llanina Point) on the big screen’ (F2:46-55), whilst others enjoyed the nostalgic staging of ‘New Quay during wartime years’ (F4:56-65), ‘as it was a long time ago’ (F9:56-65).


A particularly popular fragment of the film came at the end, with the inclusion of home-movie style ‘cine-reel’ footage of the characters enjoying rosier times in the town; ‘the relayed footage on the beach’ (M1:56-65) and ‘the two girls running on the sands and jumping around on the Quay’ (F6:65+). In fact, during the chatter after the screening, many people commented that they would have liked to see far more of that material included in the final cut. In many ways, audience members seemed to favour a more ‘romanticised’ representation of the town and certainly believed that the location was as significant a ‘character’ in the film as Dylan Thomas was. The importance of New Quay seemed to be further compounded by the apparently tortuous first thirty minutes of the film narrative and the way that the town ‘lit up (the screen) after the darkness and bombing in London’ (F7:56-65), feeling like ‘a ‘relief’ to escape’ (F8:65+).


In addition to the significance of the town, the audience also made a number of comments about mise en scène. There were positive responses to ‘the way the war was portrayed’ (F3:26-35), the ‘historic detail’ (F1:36-45) and ‘interior shots’ (F1:65+), and ‘the fashions and the simple way people lived without material things’ (F9:65+). The use of appropriate music was positively received (M3:46-55), as were echoes of the way things were when Thomas lived in New Quay, ‘walking across the beach to the pub!’ (F2:36-45). In essence, the film was thought to offer ‘a good insight into that era’ (F3:26-35). In a move away from focusing on the local, there were interesting comments about the London-based Blitz scenes and ‘the way the war was portrayed’ (F3:26-35) in an atmospheric and realistic way. One respondent felt transported back to her time ‘having served in London throughout the War’ (F8:65+) and others reminisced about ‘sad memories’ (F6:65+).


The plot also prompted a number of positive comments and was variously described as ‘excellent’ (F1:26-35), ‘exciting’ (F4:26-35) and ‘interesting’ (F5:56-65), and ‘flowed along nicely’ (F5:65+) offering an ‘interesting ‘slant’ on the facts’ (F5:56-65) through ‘true detail and suspense’ (F1:65+). Measurements of ‘truth’ seemed important in this sense, in that respondents talked of ‘learning about Dylan Thomas’ (F1: 46-55; F4:46-55) and of finding out ‘what (he) was really like’ (F9:56-65). To an extent, this was tied in with comments about the actors, especially Matthew Rhys’s ‘well-acted’ portrayal of the poet (F4:56-65). One respondent seemed to sum up rather poetically the dynamic between the characters, in terms of ‘the way that people behave when they love and hate and cannot quite understand’ (F1:65+), which ultimately resulted in some ‘very moving’ and ‘memorable’ (ibid.) moments.


On other occasions, comments about the characters were blurred by reference to the actors who played them. There were numerous mentions of the interrelationship between the two female characters in the film, but the ‘Caitlin/Vera relationship’ (M3:56-65) seemed to be interchangeable with reference to ‘the relationship between Sienna/Keira’ (F3:26-35). The latter certainly enjoyed a great deal of media coverage during the time of the filming (in the press, on-line and in celebrity/fashion magazines), which was clearly apparent when I looked through a scrap book full of information, photographs and press-cuttings (collected by F2:46-55) documenting the filming process and subsequent film release. Such coverage would very likely have helped foster a preoccupation with ‘celebrity’ during the filming process, and this seemed to filter through to its reception (cf. Morley, 2001; Stacey, 1994).


The basis for ‘rejection’

Much as there was appreciation for the ‘realism’ conveyed during the London-based opening section of the film, these scenes were not especially popular with the local audience. ‘The London bombing and the injured soldier’ (F4:46-55) were mentioned as least favourite features and one respondent thought that ‘too long (was spent) in the air-raid shelter, which was dark’ (F7:56-65). F10:65+ went as far as to describe the war scenes as unnecessarily shocking. A number of individuals felt that the film was slow to start because of the war-torn urban landscape, and there was a strong sense that the only interest the film held for the audience was ‘local-related’ and that scenes beyond the New Quay context were irritating, unenjoyable or treated with indifference.


Echoing the way that the film was received by critics, a number of respondents rejected it on the basis of fundamentals. Some comments suggested that the film was clunky or ‘bitty’ (F3:65+), ‘very slow moving with a weak storyline’ (F2:65+) and ‘lousy script’ (F3:56-65), and that ‘the actors did their best with the material…but it was a struggle!!’ (F3:56-65). The pace proved irritatingly uneven, contrastively seen as either ‘rather slow’ for the first thirty minutes (F10:56-65) or ‘slow-moving in the second half’ (M2:46-55). The plot itself was considered to be somewhat contrived (F1:16-25) and ‘rather predictable’ (F1:36-45). Respondents noted that ‘a lot of the sequences in the film were disappointing’ (M3:65+) and that the final edit was ‘Obviously cut. Very disjointed’ (F12:65+).


There were also many negative comments about the characters and actors. Some audience members felt that there was ‘too much emphasis on the two actresses’ (F13:65+) and the ‘silly behaviour by female leads’ (M1:65+) and, by association, too little focus on Dylan Thomas and/or his poetry (F3:26-35, F13:65+), which – from a local perspective – was the main point of interest. Others felt that there was too much emphasis on ‘bedroom antics’ (F6:65+). One respondent summed this up by explaining that there was ‘too much emphasis on the naughtiness and not enough on the poet’ (F13:65+); another commented, at the end of the film, that it had been ‘Raunchy! Like something out of Sex and the City… In fact, it was a bit embarrassing in places!’ (F12:65+).


This general reaction has two explanations. Firstly, it seems to resonate with traces of the way that Thomas was perceived locally in the 1940s, demonstrating David Thomas’s (2000: 24) theory that New Quay people were ‘uptight’ about the poet and, more specifically, his behaviour. Secondly, it reflects the traditional mindset of rural Welsh communities. Participants over the age of 55 who grew up in the town would almost certainly have been raised within a strong chapel culture, which was an integral part of local life until the late 1970s when attendance began to shrink in direct relation to the deaths of older generations. Thomas’s antics would have cut against associated notions of respectability and propriety, and were ‘discussed’ by locals who were shocked by or disapproving of his behaviour and the conduct of those associated with him. Reactions to the film, therefore, were deep-rooted and historically specific (cf. Morley, 2000)


However, perhaps the most impassioned reasons for rejecting the film related to questions of ‘the local’ and representations of Wales and ‘Welshness’. Issues arose from the perceived lack of regard that the film’s production team exhibited towards the locals. As previously mentioned, individuals were quite upset to see that few extras actually appeared in the final edit, despite many people taking their roles very seriously. A local ‘character’ had agreed to have his hair cut short for the first time since the 1960s in order to look convincing in 1940s costume, but he did not appear in the completed film. Similarly, another local man invested weeks driving two sheep around the town in readiness for a scene he’d been asked to prepare for, but that too was omitted. One respondent noted that she was ‘very disappointed… after all the hype about including the village’ (F6:56-65). Another took this sense of being ‘cheated’ further by suggesting that ‘somehow the local people had the wool pulled over their eyes by being told that they would be in the film. After all, the film crew did cause a certain amount of disruption to the village which was put up with as we all thought that local people would be involved’ (F6:56-65). This is an example of how the so-called ‘(symbolic) power’ of media texts can be actively contested by audience members who were witness to the ‘promises’ of the production process but who felt let down by the end result (cf. Couldry, 2000: 4).


These reflections on ‘the local’ continued, with some respondents referring to the lack of regard given to New Quay and its inhabitants in the film. As one audience member noted, there seemed to be a ‘failure to show the local input of the people of New Quay in Dylan’s real time (in the town) and the likely input of the locality in the most famous work Under Milk Wood’ (M3:65+). Questioning ‘reality’, the same respondent continued by arguing that ‘the content failed to show the wildness of Dylan and his family and the low option held of him by the local population at the time and for years later’ (ibid.). Another added that they thought the casting was poor because ‘Dylan and Caitlin were much nastier than portrayed in the film’ (M1:65+). Finally, there was some concern that Wales and the Welsh were subject to ‘negative comments’ made by some of the film’s characters (F2:36-45), which seemed to injure local pride. In a sense, the reaction towards the film resonated with the stock local reaction to Dylan Thomas, reigniting traces of past tension.


In the aftermath of the viewing, therefore, there was a degree of animosity about the way the town, its people and rural Welsh communities had been ‘used’ and the apparent avoidance of the ‘reality’ of the Thomas family’s stay in New Quay. This seems both ironic and understandable given the ‘bad feeling’ that Dylan Thomas generated when he lived in New Quay, and the slightly schizophrenic relationship that still exists between him and the county of Ceredigion.



Meaning-making and the importance of community: Some concluding remarks

In aiming to take a snap-shot of a one-off film event, it became strikingly clear that audience responses and ‘meaning-making’ activities were intricately intertwined with both individualised and shared understandings of ‘community’ and, by association, local history and nostalgia (cf. Jenkins, 1992). When asked to sum-up the film event experience, by far the most important factor for the audience members was ‘community spirit’ and the uniqueness of the screening context.


A number of respondents talked about the ‘wonderful atmosphere’ on the night of the screening (F1:16-25, F4:46-55). Many people appreciated the opportunity ‘to see the film locally’ (F1:46-55) since this, ordinarily, would not have been possible. There was talk of ‘a real sense of community’ (F1:26-35) and ‘a rare, good gathering of local people who knew each other’ (M1:56-65). Audience members talked enthusiastically about sharing the experience with other ‘New Quay people’ (F1:26-35). One respondent’s comments seemed to ‘tingle’ with the specialness of the occasion as she added that it was ‘a unique and probably never-to-be-repeated experience’ and that it was ‘wonderful to have watched the filming and then seen the complete article in the very location it was made’ (F2:46-55). ‘Community’ and ‘togetherness’ added enormously to people’s overall enjoyment of the viewing experience.


Perhaps more than this, the range of responses and the collective snap-shot they form seemed to say something about how ‘local identity’ was constructed and understood; how the ‘social-self’ was embedded in both the real, physical place (the town of New Quay) and in its on-screen representation (in The Edge of Love) (cf. Couldry, 2000: 23ff.; Morley, 2001). This ‘spectrum’ of multi-faceted layering is reflective of the interlocking factors of social/identity negotiation sketched by Deaux (in Deaux & Philogène, 2001: 312ff.) and an illustration of the textual readings and social constructions made possible by ‘joint encounters’ within meaningful contexts.


Couldry (2000: 4) notes that ‘media power’ (or, in the context of this study, the power of a specific film text and the ‘value’ vested in it through local production and consumption) is ‘a social process, which we need to understand in all its local complexity’. It would be possible to take this one step further by suggesting that complex, local understandings of the film were so significant that they created an additional, locally-specific layer of meaning, informed by memory and measured by modality judgements. Indeed, as Mills (2008: 382) notes, ‘One of the ways texts can be read is in response to knowledge of that text’s locations’ with its associated links to ‘local knowledge’.


Darby (in Mills, 2008: 380) notes that ‘place is indubitably bound up in personal experience’ and this was certainly true of the older generations in this investigation. Their readings of the film were clearly coloured by their own personal memories and first-hand experiences of Dylan Thomas. ‘Received personal experience’ seemed to best describe the younger audience members’ responses to the film; they applied knowledge of Dylan Thomas that was mediated via their parents and grandparents, perpetuating a stock pattern of ‘local reaction’ towards the poet and – as a result – the film. Thomas has clearly left an indelible mark on the local psyche, and recollections of the man clearly shaped the identity of the town as both the likely setting for Under Milk Wood and as the stage upon which a part of Thomas’s dramatic life story was played out.


Mills argues that texts can have ‘different meanings’ for those with ‘local knowledge’ (2008: 382). This certainly seemed to be the case in this investigation in that readings of the film were heavily influenced by both the audience’s first-hand knowledge of Dylan Thomas and their active participation/spectatorship during the filming process. Finally, Mills (2008: 390) suggests that ‘the display of local awareness becomes a powerful attempt to display kinship’ and this notion was evident in the ways in which audience members demonstrated their knowledge of a myriad of considerations – Dylan Thomas and his place in the town/county, the filming process, and the seemingly collective ‘local take’ on the screening context and the finished film text. The notion of ‘kinship’ was also compounded by the fact that the screening was for ‘locals only’; all audience members had a degree of vested interest in the text, tied to a sense of local identity/understanding and a sense of belonging, together with relative freedom to articulate specifically local readings of the film and its production.


‘Meaning’ – in the sense of things being both ‘meaningful’ and made collectively – was, in the context of this study at least, generated by a very specific social group who inhabited and shaped a particular ‘space’ and ‘context’. As such, ‘meaning’ was anchored in a strong sense of physical location and an appreciation of ‘rootedness’ or ‘home’ (cf. Mills, 2008: 389; Morley, 2000), derived from local history and understood by many (irrespective of whether individuals agreed or disagreed with one another). This negotiated ‘meaning’ also generated a sense of involvement and ownership, and was shared to create a unique ‘local experience’.



Thanks to Gill Hopley for being the first point of contact and for providing a local ‘deposit point’ for return of the questionnaires, Angela Blakemore (Cei Dev) for allowing access to the event, Laura Harvey for permission to include her photographs of the 2007 filming activity, Ros Mousley for her time and for allowing access to her collection of film memorabilia, and the local people of New Quay for their warmth and willingness to participate.




Barker, Martin et al (2006): ‘Lord of the Rings International Audience Research Project: World Questionnaire Dataset, 2003-2004’. Economic & Social Data Service (WWW document) URL https://www.esds.ac.uk/findingData/snDescription.asp?sn=5179 (visited 03-7-08)

Bertrand, Ina & Peter Hughes, Media Research Methods: Audiences, Institutions, Texts, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005

Census (2001): New Quay (Ward) by Age. Office for National Statistics (WWW document) URL http://www.neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk/dissemination/LeadTableView.do;jsessionid=


1219245360570&enc=1&dsFamilyId=91&nsjs=true&nsck=true&nssvg=false&nswid=1026 (visited 20-8-08)

Couldry, Nick, Place of Media Power: Pilgrims and witnesses of the media age, London: Routledge, 2000

Davies, Walford, ‘Introduction: The Road to Milk Wood’ in Under Mild Wood (The Definitive Edition), London: Everyman, 1995

Deaux, Kay: ‘Meaning and Making: Some Comments on Content and Process’, in Kay Deaux & Gina Philogène (Eds), Representations of the Social, Oxford: Blackwell, 2001

Hills, Matt, Fan Cultures, London: Routledge, 2002

Jancovich, Mark & Lucy Faire, The place of the audience: Cultural geographies of film consumption, London: BFI, 2003

Jenkins, Henry, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992

Kuhn, Annette, An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory, London: I. B. Tauris, 2002

Mills, Brett, ‘My house was on Torchwood!: Media, place and identity’, International Journal of Cultural Studies 11 (4), 2008, pp. 379-399

Morley, David, ‘Belongings: Place, Space and Identity in a Mediated World’, European Journal of Cultural Studies 4 (4), 2001, pp. 425-48

Morley, David, Home Territories: Media, Mobility and Identity, London: Routledge, 2000

Sandvoss, Cornel, Fans: The Mirror of Consumption, Cambridge: Polity, 2005

Sarantakos, Sotirios, Social Research – Third Edition, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005

Stacey, Jackie, Star gazing: Hollywood cinema and female spectatorship, London: Routledge, 1994

Thomas, David N., The Dylan Thomas Trail, Talybont: Y Lolfa, 2002

Thomas, David N., A Farm, Two Mansions and a Bungalow, Bridgend: Seren, 2000

Thomas, Dylan, Under Mild Wood (The Definitive Edition). London: Everyman, 1954




Calhoun, Dave, ‘The Edge of Love’, Time Out London, 18th-24th June 2008 (WWW document) URL http://www.timeout.com/film/reviews/85193/The_Edge_of_Love.html (visited 20-7-08)

Malcolm, Derek, ‘Keira, Sienna and a Poet Behaving Badly’, Evening Standard, London, 19th June, 2008 (WWW document) URL http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/film/film-23344231-details/The+Edge+Of+Love/filmReview.do?reviewId=23496574 (visited 20-7-08)

Pendreigh, Brian, ‘Audience on edge of hate for this ‘boring’ film’, Edinburgh Film Festival Review, 29th June, 2008 (WWW document) URL

http://www.edinburgh-festivals.com/reviews/Audience-on-edge-of-hate.4233938.jp (visited 20-7-08)

Sandhu, Sukhdev, ‘The Edge of Love and more’, Daily Telegraph Film Review (No date) (WWW document) URL http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2008/06/20/bfedge120.xml&DCMP=ILC-traffdrv07053100 (visited 20-7-08)




The Edge of Love, Directed by John Maybury, Distributed by Lionsgate, 2008




APPENDIX A: Local Shooting Locations


Shooting locations in and around the town included:


  • The main Pier in New Quay harbour – This was used largely in the closing sepia-toned ‘cine-reel’ sequence of the film, showing more ‘idyllic’ and joyous times in the sunshine.
  • Church Street – The façade of Bank House was transformed to once more look like a bank, forming a backdrop for when Vera, Caitlin and their children traipsed through the town.
  • Towyn Road – Site of the scene in which Caitlin drunkenly rode her bicycle into a wall, dramatically falling off in front of a taxi carrying Vera and Dylan, and cracking her forehead open.
  • The Black Lion – Reputed to be Dylan’s favourite pub, though only external shots were filmed here; the interior proved too small and low to be feasible for filming, so an alternative pub in Cardigan masqueraded as The Black Lion in the finished film.
  • Bryneirin – A large detached house with relatively untouched ‘period’ interior and some furniture from the pre-1940s, used as the setting for a number of indoor scenes (mainly ‘bedroom antics’, F6:65+).
  • Llanina Point – A 1980s concrete breakwater next to the river Llethi, just over a mile from New Quay. This was used in a scene where Caitlin and Vera took their children to the beach and had serious discussions whilst balancing on rocks and wading about in the surf.
  • Traeth Gwyn – A large sweeping sandy beach, affording a stunning view of New Quay headland and reputedly Thomas’s most direct route to the town pubs from Majoda, the bungalow where the Thomas family lived during their time in New Quay.
  • Charlies’s Field – The plot of land immediately adjacent to the site of the original Majoda bungalow. The field became a set location for replica versions of Majoda and Ffynnonfeddyg (the latter being the home of the Killick family). The field also enjoys the same view that Thomas himself would have seen from Majoda, of New Quay headland, Traeth Gwyn beach and the panorama of Cardigan Bay.
  • Nanternis – A small village approximately 3 miles south of New Quay, built into a steep sided wooded valley and lined with timeless Welsh cottages. One moment, Caitlin was shown grabbing a bicycle from an ivy-clad garden wall in Nanternis and the next moment she appeared on Towyn Road in New Quay (the wonders of editing!)
  • Gwili Railway – A small section of steam railway in Carmarthenshire, restored for tourists, used in the scene depicting William Killick’s return from war.
  • Lampeter – Market and University town, above 14 miles in-land from New Quay, which also had real-life Dylan Thomas connections and was the site for the filming of the court scenes.


APPENDIX B: The Questionnaire


The Edge of Love – The Local Experience


Dear Local Resident,


I work in the xxx Department at xxx University and, as a New Quay native, am very interested in finding out about your experiences of watching The Edge of Love with other locals, for one night only in the old and wonderful ‘New Quay Cinema’!

Your shared experiences will offer a unique snap-shot of what local people think of the film. Please complete this questionnaire and either return it to me after the viewing, post to the address below or deposit it with xxx in xxx (shop) by 18th July.


Thank you for your time – and hope you enjoy this film event!


Best wishes,


My name, work address and e-mail contact.



*To receive a copy of the findings, please include your postal &/or e-mail address*


  • Name (optional): _____________________________________________________________


  • Age (please circle):

Under 16






Over 65


  • Sex (please tick): Male o or Female o



  • What did you think of the film (please indicate on the scale)?

Extremely enjoyable

Very enjoyable

Reasonably enjoyable

Hardly enjoyable

Not enjoyable at all


  • Why did you want to see the film?


  • What was your favourite aspect of the film?


  • What was your least favourite aspect of the film?


  • Were you an extra in the film (please tick box)?



If yes, please note the scene you appeared in:




  • Did you follow any of the filming activity last summer (please tick box)?



If yes, please note any thoughts you have about it:




  • What do you think about the experience of seeing the film in ‘New Quay Cinema’ / the Memorial Hall (please indicate on the scale)?

Extremely enjoyable

Very enjoyable

Reasonably enjoyable

Hardly enjoyable

Not enjoyable at all


  • How important was it for you to share the viewing experience with other local people (please indicate on the scale)?





Not at all


  • Please sum up your response to the film and the viewing experience:


  • Please add any further comments below:





[1] Respondent coding is exemplified here – Male Number 1 in the 56-65 age range.  Similarly, Female Number 3 from the 46-55 age range would be represented as F3:46-55.

[2] The film was co-produced by BBC Films and Sarah Radclyffe Productions.

[3] The production team apparently purchased the rights to David Thomas’s book, A Farm, Two Mansions and a Bungalow (2000), but little if any of the content of the book is evident in the film. The film was directed by John Maybury and written by Sharman MacDonald.

[4] Cei Dev is a community development organisation ‘formed (in 1999) to regenerate the town and put community ideas into practice’(BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/mid/sites/newquay/pages/cei_dev.shtml)

[5] This date marked roughly the end of the summer term for most schools and hence the beginning of the major tourist influx to the town, which generally sees the full-time population of approximately 1,113* explode to over 20,000.

(*See: Census (2001) population figures from the Office of National Statistics: http://www.neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk/dissemination/LeadTableView.do?a=3&b=6078060&c=New+Quay

&d=14&e=16&g=415895&i=1001x1003x1004&m=0&r=1&s=1219158120124&enc=1&dsFamilyId=91 )

[6] This option was in addition to providing my contact details for those willing to post their questionnaires to me direct.

[7] See, for example, reviews by Calhoun, Malcolm, Pendreigh and Sandhu.



Biographical Note

Merris Griffiths is Lecturer in Media & Communication Studies at Aberystwyth University, Wales.

Contact Merris: lmg@aber.ac.uk



Last updated 24 November 2009

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