Solomon & Gaenor

Friday, October 13th 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

By Kendall Morgan / The Dallas Morning News

If the tales of tragic lovers such as Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolde or Heathcliff and Cathy are your cup of tea, then add the story of another unhappy couple to the list.

Solomon and Gaenor are two such luckless paramours, and you know from the first shots of the dreary gray landscape that their story won't be a happy one.

Set in the coal-mining country of Wales circa 1911, the film focuses on Solomon (the appealing Ioan Gruffudd), a young Jewish packman, or peddler, who goes door to door trying to interest the ladies in buying fabric for dresses.

He comes upon the wanly pretty Gaenor (Nia Roberts) in his rounds and is instantly smitten, giving her a sample of brilliant orange fabric and telling her, "It'd look lovely on you."

Soon he has wooed her with a dress he sews out of the fabric and is stealing kisses in the pantry while her pious parents aren't looking.

It seems that poor, hardworking Gaenor comes from a very strict family and has had an unlucky history in love. Solomon, knowing he would be rejected for being Jewish, calls himself "Sam," and begins sneaking more than kisses with Gaenor in the family attic, hiding his prayer shawl when he disrobes.

Gaenor's family of miners meet him as a normal suitor but sense that something is amiss, particularly when he can't give them a favorite Bible verse. Her abusive brother finds him suspicious simply because he lacks the calloused hands of a manual laborer.

It's no great shock when Gaenor finds out she's pregnant, or that Solomon is too weak to tell his family. The duo suffer from a series of missed connections. When, after anti-Jewish riots force Solomon to flee, Gaenor doesn't trust him enough to escape with him.

By the time he's ready to do the right thing, she has disappeared into the country to give birth to their child in secret.

We won't give away what happens, but the whole thing ends in tears. Solomon & Gaenor lacks the lightness of spirit inherent in other lovers' tragic tales. At least there's the window of time when it seems that Romeo and Juliet might actually get away with it.

Except for a few fevered couplings, the love between the two titular characters seems unfulfilling and stifling, and the mix of English, Welsh and Yiddish spoken by the characters is sometimes difficult to understand.

The film seems best viewed on one of those rainy, cold fall days when feeling miserable is the viewer's only goal.


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