Wales and Cinema

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Wales and Cinema

Postby kenji » Sun Apr 12, 2009 8:19 am

Now Wales is known more for Rugby and singing than films, but i thought it might be worth jotting down something on the Welsh contribution to cinema

Perhaps we should start in America; the millionaire Griffith j Griffith was instrumental in the development of Hollywood, creating the huge Griffith Park, and donating the Observatory. Had it not been for the ahem little matter of shooting his wife, blinding her in one eye, his name might be more prominent still. Another Griffith, D.W. the pioneering film great, boasted of his descent from Welsh princes.

A recently restored silent bio of a Welshman, Elvey’s The Life Story of David Lloyd George, has been very well received. I’ve not seen it. Other bios of Welshmen include Henry V (Branagh is stronger than Olivier on Hal's self-proclaimed Welshness, if memory serves) and Lawrence of Arabia. Well known films with Welsh subjects include How Green was my Valley (adding to the mining singing stereotype), and Zulu, with its again lustily singing brave soldiers at Rorke’s Drift, Truffaut’s Anne and Muriel (with the not very appropriate alternative title Two English Girls.) and The Old Dark House. The 1941 version of The Wolf Man seems to be set in a very transylvanian Wales.

Indigenous Welsh films i most like are the Oscar-nominated Hedd Wyn, about a young poet in WW1, and Eldra, about a Romany girl with a fox and owl for friends. Both have their hearts in the right place and make use of pretty locations. I’m less keen on Twin Town and Human Traffic, while Solomon and Gaenor, also nominated for Best Foreign Film, is well meaning but a bit staid. Leaving Lenin, about a school trip to Russia, is pleasing and won the audience award at the London Film festival. On the Black Hill, about Welsh hill-farming brothers, is worthwhile. My dad helped author Bruce Chatwin with necessary local colour, information and anecdotes

Paul Robeson became a lifelong friend of Wales and the miners when starring in The Proud Valley. The 1920s animation Jerry and the Troublesome Tyke (Bilby, Griffiths) is quite charming. More recently, there have been Russian-Welsh animation co-productions such as The Miracle Maker

Welsh directors include Richard Marquand (Jagged Edge, Return of the Jedi), Terry Jones (Monty Python) and Peter Greenaway; his subjects tend to be more Anglo-Dutch, but Tulse Luper and The Falls do have clear Welsh links. Acting has been something of a strong point: Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs), Ray Milland (Lost Weekend), Hugh Griffith (Ben Hur), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago) and Edmund Gwenn (Miracle on 34th Street)- though it’s not clear whether he was born in Wales or London- have all won Oscars. Other notables include Richard Burton, Stanley Baker, Jonathan Pryce (Brazil), Timothy Dalton (James Bond), Desmond Llewelyn ("Q), Christian Bale, Peggy Cummins (Gun Crazy), Michael Sheen (making a speciality of turns as well-known people, e.g in Frost-Nixon and The Queen). A Welsh cinematographer of note is Peter Biziou (The Truman Show, Mississippi Burning, In the Name of the Father…)

Wales itself as a location has stood in for other countries in Carry on up the Khyber (India), Inn of the Sixth Happiness (China), From Russia with Love (Yugoslavia), The Keep (Romania), The Lion in Winter (England), Moby Dick (US coast), Tomb Raider 2..

Richard Attenborough has been trying to create a rival to Hollywood and Bollywood with studios in South Wales- “Valleywood”- but this has hit financial problems and been delayed.

Some famous names of Welsh parentage: Charlie Chaplin, Naomi Watts, Bette Davis, Susan Sarandon, Bob Hope, Esther Williams, Myrna Loy, Russell Crowe..

Whereas several Welsh stars have left for Hollywood, Julie Christie and Oscar-winning cinematographer-director Chris Menges have set up home in Wales, Menges’ Second Best about a boy adopted by a postmaster and starring William Hurt, was filmed in the small town where i was brought up.

Oh and scientist Donald Davies was crucial in the development of computer communications, enabling the creation of the internet and its film possibilities… and your presence here
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