Posted February 1, 2013 by Ben Winkley in DVD/Blu-ray
 
 

The Last Days of Dolwyn


We’ll keep a welcome in the hillside, we’ll keep a welcome in the vales; this land you knew will still be singing, when you come home again to Wales.

We’ll
keep a welcome in the hillside, we’ll keep a welcome in the vales; this land
you knew will still be singing, when you come home again to Wales.

It’s nice to start with a song – The Last Days of
Dolwyn
does just that when the villain of the piece – a dapper, well-spoken
chap named Rob Davies – saunters in to a tranquil Welsh vale with a dastardly
plan. The first person he meets there is a simple sheep herder, singing away to
his heart’s content.

Davies (director Emlyn Williams) enters this
rural idyll as the embodiment of modernism, industrialisation and progress.
Dolwyn – a Welsh-speaking (and -singing) place – is by contrast a lost
civilisation of Methodism and ill-observed temperance.

Davies, though, is not all that he seems. His lawerley
affectations belie his roots – as a youth he was run out of Dolwyn for
thieving, the sound of mocking laughter ringing in his ears and the thwack of
the local kids’ stones raining on his back.

Now made good – he describes himself to the yokel
sheepherder as cosmopolitan, don’t you know – he is back to wreak his revenge
on his childhood tormentors.

Davies is going to drown Dolwyn.

He is there in the employ of Lord Lancashire (a
gloriously upper-crust Allan Aynesworth), one of those great
Victorian industrialists; Dolwyn is to be flooded to provide water for the
burgeoning economy of Liverpool.

The local aristocracy, Lady Dolwyn, is on her uppers
and can’t refuse the offer made. Because everyone lives on her land, it’s all
up for the villagers.

Everyone is to be decanted to a new estate, being
built by Lord Lancashire in the Liverpool suburbs. There they can all work in
the cotton mills, which in a happy coincidence are also owned by his Lordship.

They’re being ‘deported to England’, as one old crone
has it.

This is the haves throwing the have-nots off their
land – and it’s time for some old-fashioned working-class solidarity, led by
the matriarchial Merri (Edith Evans) and her eldest son Gareth (a young Richard
Burton
), who is fresh back from Liverpool and, aghast at the tumult and
trams, has no desire to return.

A plan is hatched, a scene is set, and Davies again
gets run out of Dolwyn before returning once more to wreak a terrible revenge
in a dramatic face-off with Merri and her son.

For Emlyn Williams this, his only directorial credit,
was a personal project having grown up in a similarly Welsh-speaking community
in North Wales.

That may be why Davies lacks any stereotypical,
moustache-twiddling villainous traits. He is instead a coward and a bully,
vindictive and mendacious. He is pure capitalism, concerned only with money and
the making thereof.

With Merri, the lauded British stage actress Edith
Evans, who made the transition to the big screen so well that she was nominated
for three Oscars in the 1960s, has the strongest character and deservedly tops
the bill despite the presence of Burton, in his second film.

Emlyn Williams worked consistently for 50 years, with
a writing credit on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1934 version of The Man Who
Knew Too Much
, and he would again cross paths, in a sense, with Burton when
he shared a screen with Elizabeth Taylor in Ivanhoe.

The Last Days of Dolwyn is a quirky, personal take on
pride in where you’re from and the reasons to fight for that.

A genuinely bilingual film, with long passages spoken
in Welsh (there’s an odd subtitle option on the DVD, when anything in Welsh is
captioned ‘Gareth speaks Welsh’, perhaps to add to the mystique), it’s like a
trip to the Welsh Heritage Centre at St. Fagens, with its bakehouse and
chapel.

It is emblematic of a society first marginalised, then
forcibly removed from existence, and may be based on the flooding of Llanwddyn
in 1881 – the first of many Welsh valleys swamped to quench English thirst that
carried on until the mid-1950s, when a wave of violent nationalism was sparked
in the valleys.

Rhyddfraint, as
they say in Flintshire.


Ben Winkley