Well, this is right up my valley, I thought, when I first heard about Fflics: Wales Screen Classics. That was back in 2005; but this month, the festival is finally getting underway here in Aberystwyth. We went into town this afternoon for the official launch; and whatever promotional boost I might give this event I am only too glad to provide, especially since it brings our friend, the silent screen composer Neil Brand, back into town to provide his musical accompaniment to a long-lost epic whose rediscovery (in the mid-1990s) film historian Kevin Brownlow termed “the find of the century.”
The four-day, thirty events spanning festival opens, rather safely and predictably, with a Hollywood behemoth, the Academy Award winning How Green Was My Valley (1941), based on the international bestseller by Richard Llewellyn. Also on the bill is the Bette Davis vehicle The Corn Is Green (1945), adapted from a stage drama by the aforementioned Welsh playwright Emlyn Night Must Fall Williams.
Williams features prominently in the festival’s offerings, whether as writer, actor, or director. He can be seen in King Vidor’s The Citadel (1938) and Carol Reed’s The Stars Look Down (1939), two mining disaster movies I watched earlier this year, but in his only directorial effort, The Last Days of Dolwyn (1949), in which he costars opposite Edith Evans and Richard Burton in his first screen role.
Unlike in the case of Dolwyn, the story of a village threatened to expire in a watery grave to make room for a reservoir, the Welsh connections are tentative, at times. Apart from those fanciful and historically questionable portraits of life in 20th-century Wales produced in Hollywood and England, any film written, inspired by or starring those born, raised or having been creatively active here seems to have qualified. Dead of Night (1945), for instance, happens to star Welshman Mervyn Johns and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) is portrayed by Welsh character actor Roger Livesey (among whose supporting cast members numbers the leading lady saluted in my previous entry).
Entirely justified, and much appreciated, is the spotlight on Welsh matinee idol Ivor Novello, who can be seen in The Rat (1925), with Neil Brand at the piano, and the French production of The Call of the Blood (1920; pictured). Unequivocal Wales Screen Classics, too, are films like Y Chwarelwr (1935), the first feature length Welsh language sound drama, and Proud Valley (1940), starring the great Paul Robeson (pictured and mentioned here), who first came to Wales back in the late 1920s and remained closely connected to its people and culture, despite being denied the privilege of international travel by the US State Department in 1950s.
Fflics also offers rare documentary footage of Buffalo Bill touring the North Wales seaside town of Rhyl back in 1903, introduces today’s audience to “Jerry the Troublesome Tyke,” the first animated shorts to come out of Wales back in the mid-1920s, and provides a fascinating example of British wartime propaganda with The Silent Village (1943), a restaging or reimagining on Welsh soil of the 1942 razing of the Czech village Lidice by the Nazis, with a pictorial account of which I came back from the Jewish Quarter of Prague a few weeks ago (and a poetic response to which I discussed here a couple of years earlier).
Proud Valley, The Rat, and The Silent Village apart, the highlight of the festival is, for me, the screening of the Life Story of David Lloyd George, a 1918 biographical drama, boasting a cast of ten thousand, that never reached the public and disappeared from view for over seven decades. Directed by the prolific Maurice Elvey (whose Hindle Wakes  I briefly discussed here), it features Hitchcock partner and screenwriter Alma Reville in her only acting role. I shall have to report back . . .