“Solomon and Gaenor” is a beautifully tragic love story that borrows from one of the greats: Imagine Romeo and Juliet as a couple divided by religion and prejudice.
Solomon Levinsky (Ioan Gruffudd) is the son of a poor tailor in 1911 Wales. As Jews, the persecution against them is not as bad as it was in Mother Russia, but it is considerable nonetheless. The working-class locals are particularly edgy now as a miners’ strike seems imminent.
Gaenor Rees (Nia Roberts) is the daughter of one of those coal miners. She meets Solomon as he goes door-to-door selling cloth and sewing supplies, making sure not to let anyone think he’s Jewish lest there be repercussions. He tells Gaenor his name is Sam Livingstone, and soon they are meeting furtively to share kisses and develop a relationship. That relationship becomes intimate very quickly, with Solomon careful to surreptitiously remove his prayer shawl before Gaenor can see it.
Gaenor’s family is not particularly welcoming to Solomon, though only her roughneck brother Crad (Mark Lewis Jones) objects directly. Things collapse when Gaenor becomes pregnant, is ratted out by a jealous ex-boyfriend (Steffan Rhodri), and is publicly humiliated by the preacher at her shame-based church congregation. Devastated, she tries to stay away from Solomon without telling him why.
The bonds of love are tested throughout the film, with one obstacle after another popping up to keep the young lovers apart. Solomon is a particularly tragic character, determined as he is to throw everything away to be with the woman he loves. What makes it tragic is that he does this not out of romance, but out of impetuousness. He’s an easily recognizable figure: the young man who is all too willing to give up his religion, his family and his life when impulse beckons him.
One wonders how faithful he could have been in the first place. An early scene suggests a flippant attitude toward spirituality. What a backstory exists there, with Solomon unhappy in his orthodox lifestyle and glad to find any excuse for leaving, even when he knows it’s doomed from the start. It could be argued that matters of faith, not youthful romances, are what the film is actually about.
Gruffudd and Roberts are compelling as the star-crossed lovers, conveying well the awkwardness and immaturity inherent in such a relationship. The polished writing and direction by Paul Morrisson and handsome cinematography by Nina Kellgren all combine in this sad, poignant excursion.
A- (; )