This Welsh tale is one of the great British postwar films, made with love and passion by a variety of leading figures of Welsh background or descent. It was written by Emlyn Williams, who also played a lead role in it, and it was the only film he ever directed in his long career as actor, playwright, and screenwriter. Until the age of 12, Williams lived in a small Welsh village where only Welsh was spoken. By a quirk of fate, his innate talent and ability were discovered and he got a scholarship to Oxford, thereby escaping a life of drudgery and being catapulted into the world of the arts. He was one of the most famous Welshmen of his day, and died as late as 1987. Having not appeared in a film since 1916, the great British stage actress Edith Evans (later Dame Edith), decided in 1949 to work in the cinema again. She had dominated the London stage for several decades, and was 61 years old. Evans is a Welsh name, and presumably, though born in London, Edith Evans was attracted to this Welsh story because of her own heritage, and also because hers is the lead role in the story. The result was probably her greatest film performance, in which she spoke rather a lot of Welsh very convincingly. She plays a widow who is a humble cottager in the village of Dolwyn. Her only child died twenty years before, and she adopted two boys, played by Richard Burton and Anthony James. This was Burton's first film role, and he speaks a great deal of Welsh in the part. As most people know, Burton was of humble and significantly ethnic Welsh origins just like Emlyn Williams, who became his close friend and mentor. The minister in this film is played by another Welshman, Hugh Griffiths, a beloved character actor for many decades in Britain. The film was produced for British Lion by Anatole de Grunwald, who wisely let the talented team get on with it undisturbed, and do their Welsh thing without interference. I knew the continuity girl, June Faithful, many years later, when she was still working as a continuity girl. She was very highly thought of and she struck me as being extremely devoted to her work. I go out of my way to mention her credited job on this film because it is not listed in her credits for IMDb for some reason. I hate for people to go unacknowledged. I have no idea whether she was related to the much younger actress and singer Marianne Faithful (born 1946), but assume not, as I have never heard it mentioned. This film has a very powerful dramatic twist to it late in the story. For much of the film, however, the idyllic life of a small Welsh village of 1892 is portrayed in great detail. As one would expect with the Welsh, who never stop singing, there is a great deal of that. There is a boy who minds the sheep whose fine tenor voice is heard throughout the story, and he sings while the town is flooded because he cannot bear to leave. We see the waters rising up his legs, but his tenor voice rings out, singing in his native Welsh as if his heart would burst. Let no one underestimate the importance of singing to the Welsh. The Methodist chapel culture is well portrayed, with fiery sermons in Welsh and everyone in the village attending, then the men withdraw to the pub to discuss the sermon afterwards. Women are not allowed in the pub because 'it would be a scandal for a woman to be seen in the pub'. At crucial moments in the story, all the villagers join in singing hymns spontaneously. If anyone thinks that is sentimental nonsense, think again. The traditional Welsh were like that, and much of it still survives. My wife and I have driven into an obscure Welsh village and stopped because we heard the distant sound of a heavenly choir, followed the sound, and found a church full of Welshmen singing their hearts out in rehearsal for a forthcoming local concert. They do that, they really do, and they need little encouragement to burst into song in Wales, where they lack the English diffidence. The story of this film is about a rich man who returns from London, where he has made his fortune, to Dolwyn from which he had been expelled at the age of 12 for stealing money from the church, driven out of town in fact by people throwing stones at him. He has seethed with offended pride and violent hatred of the villagers ever since. He has now returned to wreak his vengeance upon them, like Ingrid Bergman in THE VISIT. In concert with an English peer, he has bought up most of the village so that he can flood it with water from a nearby dam and eradicate from the earth the scene of his youthful humiliation. But Edith Evans, who plays a simple village woman of no pretensions, and who has never travelled more than a few miles from her village in her lifetime, stands in his way. The scenery may be pastoral and quaint in the extreme, but the conflict is one of life and death. This is a film resonant with meaning and relevance for our own time, more than for 1949 when it was made. After all, one cannot but think of all those poor people uprooted because of the Three Gorges Dam in China.
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