The Last Days of Dolwyn
Directed byEmlyn Williams
Written byEmlyn Williams
Produced byAnatole de Grunwald
StarringEdith Evans
Emlyn Williams
Richard Burton
Anthony James
CinematographyOtto Heller
Edited byRussell Lloyd
Maurice Rootes
Music byJohn DH Greenwood
Distributed byBritish Lion Films
Release date
13 April 1949[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguagesEnglish, Welsh
Box office£96,772 (UK)[2]

The Last Days of Dolwyn (renamed Woman of Dolwyn for the American market)[3] is a 1949 British drama film directed by Emlyn Williams and starring Edith Evans, Emlyn Williams, Richard Burton and Anthony James.[4] The screenplay focuses on an impoverished Welsh village which becomes the site of a bitter power struggle between a callous developer and a stubborn dowager.

The film marked the first film appearance of Burton, the first film appearance of Edith Evans since 1916, and the sole film to be directed by Emlyn Williams, who also wrote the screenplay.

Plot

The story is set in 1892 in and around the peaceful (fictional) village of Dolwyn in Mid-Wales. A short prelude shows a plaque marking a flood and the deaths of two people, only one of whose bodies was recovered.

A consortium led by Lord Lancashire is constructing a massive dam at the head of the valley above Dolwyn, to create a reservoir to supply water to Liverpool. Construction stops when the rock, thought to be limestone, turns out to be granite. Realizing it will be cheaper and easier to the flood the village (but unaware it is inhabited), Lord Lancashire dispatches his agent, Rob, to buy the land. Heavily in debt, Lady Dolwyn (Barbara Couper) agrees to sell. Leaseholders are offered large sums for their leases, along with new houses in Liverpool and jobs in a cotton mill for those who want them. The villagers do not recognise Rob, but he has his own reason for wanting the village flooded; he was born and grew up there, but was stoned out of the village twenty years before for thievery.

Of all the villagers, old widow Merri (Edith Evans) is the most reluctant to leave. Her son is buried in the graveyard and she hates the idea of the grave being flooded, as his father died by drowning.

Whilst packing up to leave, Merri's foster-child Gareth (Richard Burton), who has lived in England and speaks the language, discovers documents that prove Merri (who has very little English), has a right to own her land in perpetuity. A solicitor confirms the title. Lord Lancashire visits Merri, but soon realises she cannot be bought off or cajoled. To top it all, she cures his rheumatic shoulder with manipulation. He decides to use the more expensive method of construction instead, preserving the village. Rob is furious and decides to open the dam's spillway valves to flood the valley. He fails, and instead sets fire to Merri's cottage.

Gareth catches Rob in the act, knocking him into the fire. Though Gareth tries to beat out the flames, Rob dies. Merri has witnessed the events: to protect Gareth, she conceals the body, then makes her way to the dam's valve room and opens the valves. The villagers watch sadly from nearby safe ground as their beloved village is slowly drowned.

One young shepherd refuses to flee the flood and his defiant, lilting tenor voice is suddenly silenced as the tide consumes him.

Cast

A still from the making of the film

Historical parallels

The film's setting parallels the drowning in the 1880s of the village of Llanwddyn in Lake Vyrnwy to provide water for Liverpool. It may also be based on the construction of the Elan Valley Reservoirs, designed to supply water to Birmingham, and the tragic flooding of the beautiful neighbourhood of Nantgwyllt, beloved of the poet Shelley.[5]

In the 1960s, real life mirrored fiction when Llyn Celyn was built to provide further water to Liverpool, flooding the village of Capel Celyn.

Reception

The film performed disappointingly at the box office despite good reviews.[6]

References

  1. ^ The Last Days of Dolwyn (1949) at IMDb
  2. ^ Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p489
  3. ^ 'The Last Days Of Dolwyn' 1949 at The Richard Burton Museum
  4. ^ The Last Days of Dolwyn (1949) at British Film Institute website
  5. ^ Abandoned Communities...Reservoirs of Wales at abandonedcommunities.co.uk
  6. ^ John Healey (6 December 1952). "A reject worth waiting for". The Mail. Adelaide. p. 6. Retrieved 30 June 2012. At Trove