It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
In Wales in 1911, it was simply not realistic for a Welsh girl and a Jewish boy to think they could find a happy ending to their love story, unless they were prepared to leave their families and journey elsewhere--to London, say. But since this course is open to them, it is a little difficult to have our hearts broken by the tragedy of "Solomon & Gaenor," the story of a boy and girl who, essentially, want to have sex more than they want to pay the consequences.
The movie takes place in a coal-mining valley of unrelieved dreariness, which the local chapel seems to mirror in its gray rigidity. Here the sweet-faced Gaenor (Nia Roberts) lives with her family, including a brutish brother. Over the hills in a larger town, a Jewish family, newly immigrated from Russia, runs a pawn shop and clothing business. Here the handsome Solomon (Ioan Gruffudd) works as a door-to-door salesman of dry goods. His family is observant of their religion, but Solomon is not, and when his grandfather prays aloud, he asks his father to "stop the old fool's braying." One day Solomon knocks on doors in the mining village, and when Gaenor opens one of the doors, both of them feel a thrumming of the loins. He makes a red dress for her and gives it as a present, and soon (on their third or fourth meeting after no conversations of consequence) they are in the hayloft.
Their romance is a sweet one; they walk in the fields, and she is entranced by the first boy she has met who speaks poetically and gently. He finds her tender and bewitching--and, of course, available. He lies about himself. His name is Sam Livingstone, he says, posing as gentile. His father works for the railroads. He meets Gaenor's family for tea (the brother glowering suspiciously), but does not invite her to meet his family because his father is "away." Sooner or later, as we know and they should, Gaenor will get pregnant. And what will happen then? How the movie handles this is its main contribution to the underlying Romeo and Juliet theme, and so I will not reveal it, except to say that anyone with common sense could have figured out a less tragic ending than Solomon does. I didn't know whether to weep for his fate or his lack of intelligence.
The technical credits are superb. The valley groans under heavy clouds and snowfall. The houses are dark caves. We can feel the wet and cold underfoot. The treatment of Solomon by Crad (Mark Lewis Jones), the brother, is convincing and not simply routine villainy. The scene in the chapel where Gaenor is denounced by her former fiance is like a sudden slap in the face.