Four decades of Welsh films in February

Posted on: 30 Jan 2013 by Philip Wyn Jones

Chapter’s next foray into the past brings us four Welsh-themed films, two of which date from the 1930s and one each from the 1940s and 1950s. They’ll be shown in the following order.

The Last Days of Dolwyn (Emlyn Williams, 1949). Williams had been involved in film making since 1932, as actor and screenwriter. This was his first and only film as director. He wrote it as a vehicle for Edith Evans and took the other main part himself, with supporting roles for Hugh Griffith and, in his first film, Richard Burton. Williams plays a 32 year old returning to the village from which he was banished, as a 12 year old, for stealing the chapel collection. His revenge will be sweet, as the agent of the company which plans to flood the valley to form a reservoir. Edith Evans is his chief stumbling block. This strong-willed lady, the chapel caretaker, will not be moved, in any sense of the word. In addition to the studio work there was a substantial amount of attractively filmed location shooting at Rhydymain, between Dolgellau and Bala.

Valley of Song (Gilbert Gunn, 1953). This delightful film was adapted from Cliff Gordon’s radio play, Choir Practice. Clifford Evans takes the central role originally played by Ivor Novello. A professional musician, he returns to his hometown with great ambitions for the local choir. He aims to win the top prize at the forthcoming National Eisteddfod and begins by daring to replace one of the regular soloists. Civil war ensues and two young lovers suffer accordingly. Mervyn Johns, as the local minister, tries to restore peace and harmony, Rachel Thomas, as the injured party, emotes impressively in her best big screen performance and Rachel Roberts, making her debut here, has great fun as the principal local busybody. Of the many Welsh films made by English studios at this time, Valley of Song is my favourite.

The Proud Valley (Pen Tennyson, 1939). This film was tailor-made for its leading actor; law graduate, singer, actor, sportsman and political activist, Paul Robeson. Ten years earlier, while appearing in London’s West End, he met a group of Welsh miners who had walked all the way there on a hunger march. He felt deep, sincere and lasting empathy with the Welsh mining communities. He plays an itinerant worker who becomes a hero in the musical and industrial life of a mining village. As crises develop he leads and inspires the community. Initially the film appears to be a clarion call to the working class, urging them to fight for their rights but, with war soon to break out, a united front is called for. Defeating the external enemy becomes top priority. Robeson is ably supported by Dilys Davies, Jack Jones, Rachel Thomas and, in a small but memorably vindictive role, Clifford Evans.

Y Chwarelwr (Ifan ab Owen Edwards, 1935). One can just imagine the excitement when two young men came together to make the first Welsh-language talkie. Ifan ab Owen Edwards had established the Welsh youth movement, Urdd Gobaith Cymru in 1922 and John Ellis Williams had already produced a host of popular plays and would later become the author of countless widely read popular novel. Edwards and Williams decided to make a romantic melodrama featuring the story of a young quarryman who abandons his own academic career in order to finance his sister’s higher education. Location filming was done in a slate quarry at Blaenau Ffestiniog. Because of a deteriorating soundtrack since then and a missing final reel, a considerable amount of restoration work was needed and this was accomplished by the award-winning poet, documentary producer and presenter Ifor ap Glyn who has made programmes for S4C and BBC 4, together with enterprising TV company Cwmni Da and the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales. The completed film now has a new soundtrack and a newly composed score by dynamic Welsh composer, Pwyll ap Sion. Chapter will show the film with English subtitles. Audiences had to wait fourteen years for the next Welsh-language film, Noson Lawen (Mark Lloyd, 1949). Two years before that Ifan ab Owen Edwards had been granted a knighthood for his services to Welsh culture.

Philip Wyn Jones. Editor and reviewere:

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