by Carlos Tseng
Critics continue to be outraged at John Ford’s 1941 film about the Welsh valleys beating Orson Welles’ noir classic, Citizen Kane, for Best Picture at the 14th Academy Awards. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley is still upheld as a token from the Golden Age of Hollywood for offering audiences an escape from urban and rural America into the green Welsh valleys.
The film is told from the perspective of Huw Morgan (Roddy McDowall), the youngest son of Gwilym Morgan (Donald Crisp) and Beth Morgan (Sarah Allgood). Whilst his brothers work in the coal mines, his sister Angharad (Maureen O’Hara) helps look after the household with her mother. However, this harmony is disturbed when the mine owner announces that wages will be reduced and two of Huw’s older brothers are made redundant.
Consequently, the miners go on strike. Gwilym attempts to make amends by refusing to endorse the miners’ strike, this ultimately backfires as the Morgan family becomes estranged from the rest of the mining community. Even Gwilym’s older sons threaten to leave the house because of his conduct. Meanwhile however, Angharad slowly falls in love with the village chapel pastor, Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon).
For contemporary audiences, How Green Was My Valley may seem dated with its story and rather two-dimensional characters. Furthermore, disappointingly none of the actors are Welsh and due to World War II, the film was shot in the Santa Monica Mountains, California. This being said, Clint Eastwood has previously declared John Ford’s 1941 classic to be his favourite film of all time and, indeed, it would be unfair to completely dismiss How Green Was My Valley. Its portrayal of Wales is truly a celebration of its culture and history, and a testament to a country too often ignored in popular culture. It won more than just Best Picture at the Oscars; it also won John Ford his third Best Director Oscar and wins for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. Donald Crisp also picked up Best Supporting Actor.
Personally, I really enjoyed How Green Was My Valley. I watched the film on Blu-ray (bravo to the restoration team for delivering an excellent presentation of the film) and immediately appreciated Ford’s keen eye for detail and great effort to replicate the gentle nature of the Welsh valleys and coal mine villages. Although Donald Crisp won the Oscar, Maureen O’Hara and Walter Pidgeon also deliver very commendable performances. It’s hard to fault any of the actors’ performances once you start watching it as even a 12 year old Roddy McDowall plays Huw in a manner which earns the hearts of his audience.
It may not be authentically Welsh but it would be a lie to say that it’s not endearing. I wholeheartedly recommend How Green Was My Valley and urge you all not to be discouraged by the film’s age; it contains timeless flair and deserves the praise it has received over the years.