Cinema of Wales - History - 1914 To 1980

1914 To 1980

Much of the cinema of Wales in the later 1910s and 1920s has been lost. In 1920 nine films were shot in Wales, all now lost. One of the most notable and celebrated of the films from this period is A Welsh Singer (1915), adapted from a work by Welsh writer Allen Raine, which starred Florence Turner. Henry Edwards who directed A Welsh Singer, also created the 1930 film Aylwin, from the novel by Theodore Watts-Dunton, drawing into the world of gypsies and a mythical, mystical Wales. The 1930s saw the first Welsh language film, Y Chwarelwr directed by Ifan ab Owen Edwards in 1935. The decade also saw two important agitprop documentaries, Today We Live (1937) set among the unemployed miners of the village of Pentre in the Rhondda Valleys, and Donald Alexander's Eastern Valley (1937). The outbreak of World War II saw the backdrop of a mining valley in Wales being used as the setting for a war propaganda film, The Silent Village (1943). Designed as a tribute to the mining community of Lidice, Czechoslovakia, which had suffered from Nazi atrocities, The Silent Village transpose the events to a Wales; and was also used to draw analogies with the oppression of the Welsh language.

The coming of the sound era had little impact on Welsh cinema, though 1938's The Citadel an adaptation of A. J. Cronin's 1937 novel brought Wales to a large audience; though King Vidor's interpretation failed to express the novel's political message. The first Hollywood 'talkie' to be set in Wales was James Whale's The Old Dark House. The best known films connected to Wales during this period failed to harness Welsh talents, The Proud Valley (1940) and How Green Was My Valley (1940) were neither directed or adapted for the screen by Welsh people. John Ford's How Green Was My Valley is notable for starring just one Welsh actor, Rhys Williams, and for being shot in the United States. Although John Ford's view of Wales was based on a mythical and romantic view of the industrialised valleys, Jill Cragie's Blue Scar (1949), part financed by the National Coal Board, raised serious and radical questions about the nationalisation of the coal industry and has striking location photography around south Wales. Another release from 1949 to make an important cultural statement was Emlyn Williams' The Last Days of Dolwyn, the plot of which centred around the flooding of a Welsh village to create a reservoir; a subject that became extremely controversial in Wales in the 1960s.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the output of two of the country's best documentary makers. Jack Howells and John Ormond dealt primarily with Welsh people and subjects. Howells is best known for his impressionistic, lyrical documentaries that included Nye! (1965) and Dylan Thomas (1962). Dylan Thomas is the only Welsh film to have won an Oscar (for best short documentary), it features Richard Burton as narrator, visiting the haunts of Dylan Thomas. Ormond, a poet foremost, is remembered for his sensitive portrayals of writers and authors, and for documentaries concerned with the working class and with refugees, in particular Borrowed Pastures (1960) which follows two Polish ex-soldiers struggling to get by on a Carmarthenshire smallholding.

The period directly following the end of the Second World War saw political and social commentary disappear from Welsh cinema. The first few decades after the war saw few notable Welsh films; stand out exceptions included Tiger Bay (1959) and Only Two Can Play (1962). The main problems facing Welsh cinema during this period were a lack of a film production infrastructure, Welsh producers and finance. The fact that Wales was unable to produce films from within its own borders resulted in the stereotyping and common preconceptions of Welsh life formed by 'outside' film-makers. One of the few beacons of light for the industry came in the late 1970s with the output of left wing producer and director Karl Francis; whose controversial portrayal of contemporary life in the south Wales valleys was typified by his 1976 film Above us the Earth. Welsh language films were few, notably the films produced in the 1970s by the Bwrdd Ffilmiau Cymraeg (Welsh Film Board).

Before the advent of a dedicated channel, BBC Wales and its commercial counterpart HTV produced Welsh language programmes for their viewers in Wales. Although this did not include the creation of feature length films, in the 1970s HTV undertook a venture to dub existing movies into Welsh. Their first attempt was George Stevens' 1953 Western, Shane. The result was seen as a unintentionally humorous and the experiment was quickly abandoned.

Read more about this topic:  Cinema Of Wales, History