If you have read the novel How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn, you will instantly realise what a grim story it is about life in a Wales mining town. What you might not be aware of, is that much of it was supposed to be based on the authors own memories as a Welsh miner’s son, born in St. David’s (Wales). Among other things Llewellyn also claimed to have worked as a coal miner (for research purpose), but none of this was true. In 1999, it was revealed that Richard Llewellyn’s real name was Richard David Vivian Llewellyn Lloyd and he was in fact English with Welsh ancestry. Furthermore, the book is also apparently full of historical inaccuracies, which is a bone of contention with many Welsh historians.
I’m not sure how this might have affected John Ford’s film’s adaptation of the novel, if he had known the real truth? Ford may not have given it a second thought anyway, because I suppose he might have surmised that the film was really about Welshness rather than any real historical truth? Interestingly, the only actor who was Welsh on the set of the film was Rhys Williams, who plays a boxer named Dai Bando. It’s kind of an amusing bit of trivia considering that the film is supposed to be about Welshness, right!? On the subject of historical accuracy, Ford seemingly wasn’t flustered at all in setting aside historical truths in his films. He famously did it again by romanticising Wyatt Earps’ story some five years later in My Darling Clementine (1946).
John Ford brought to life his adaption of the novel How Green Was My Valley about a Welsh coal-mining family only a year after his triumph with The Grapes of Wrath. Moreover, with Ford at the helm, it won an Academy Award for Best Picture, upstaging everyone including Citizen Kane at the 14th Academy Awards ceremony. Ford would also go on to win his third Oscar for Best Director and the fortuitous choice to film in black and white also earned Arthur C. Miller an Oscar for Best Cinematography. Interestingly, under the original director assigned to the film, William Wyder, How Green Was My Valley was meant to be a dazzling technicolor spectacular filmed in Wales before it ended up opportunistically in the hands of John Ford. Under Ford, the production was brought to California because of the Second World War and shot in B&W to give it a more gritty feel. In truth, the colour of Southern Californian flowers apparently had a lot to do with it being filmed in B&W because they did not match those found in Wales.
In short, the film is narrated by an older Huw Morgan (Irving Pichel), who reflects on his childhood memories of his father and four brothers, as they manage to drag themselves up the towns hill everyday to work in the pit. He also recalls the loss of his childhood innocence, a town divided by wage cuts and strikes and ultimately family loss.
Bringing to life this heart-wrenching story were an array of strong performance from an incredible ensemble cast. Notable performances worthy of a mention include thirteen year old Roddy McDonald as a young Huw Morgan, Donald Crisp as Gwilym Morgan (who incidentally won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), Sara Allgood as Mrs. Beth Morgan and Walter Pidgeon as Mr. Gruffydd, a pastor who sacrifices almost everything including his love for Angharad Morgan (Maureen O’Hara).
Today, almost eighty years after its original release How Green was My Valley endures as a wonderful classic and arguably one of the greatest films ever made.