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Tom Hollander in 'A Poet in New York': Quick review

Tom Hollander, one of the elite actors of our time, has had almost no visibility on American TV, but that injustice changes in a few hours, when he headlines BBC America's "A Poet in New York."

Bottom line: It's good; he's superb.

"Poet" is about Dylan Thomas' last hours, and days, in New York -- he died on Nov. 9, 1953, after a bender that led to acute alcoholic encephalopathy. Hollander -- you may know him best from "Pirates of the Caribbean" (Cutler Beckett) or "Gosford Park" -- underwent a physical transformation for this role, which required the addition of pounds and a certain ruddiness of complexion indicative of a fondness for drink, cigarettes and assorted other sybaritic pursuits.

Thomas' last days were tragic -- a tumble in oblivion abetted by alcohol and phenobarbital, a psychic mindset framed by an acute sense of failing gifts, and an accumulating darkness. Hollander captures all of this in a harrowing portrait that's humane, sympathetic and passionate -- a lost man drowning at the bottom of a shot glass. (“I’ve just drunk 18 straight whiskies. ... I think that’s the record.”)

Plus, he's got some very good company on-screen, most notably Ewen Bremner, who plays John Malcolm Brinnin, the poet and Thomas promoter who brings him to New York for a series of readings and a production of the radio drama "Under Milk Wood." Anyone who loves poetry and Thomas -- and especially a performance by a first-rate actor at the top of his profession -- will want to check this out.

It's on at 8.

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