How Green Was My Valley is set in a Welsh mining village during the beginning of the mining industry. It tells of how the people and community were irrevocably affected by the arrival of industrialisation. The story is told through the eyes of Huw Morgan, the youngest brother of the Morgan family.
The film evokes a powerful imagery of the dignity, honesty and good nature of the mining communities. The atmosphere of the film is enhanced by the beautiful welsh choral singing. The music feels both spontaneous and soulful; it becomes a poignant contrast to the harsh realities of mining life and is perhaps symbolic of the growing divide within the community.
The film concentrates on the Morgan family who are representative of a community struggling to deal with the economic and social changes being forced upon them. For example the father Gwilym Morgan, played by Donald Crisp, does not believe in creating a union. His stance is at odds with his 5 sons who as a consequence decide to leave the family house. Despite the rift created in the family, they retain a dignity and nobility which seem reminiscent of a bygone era. Despite touching on political issues, the film doesn’t take sides. It merely considers the human impact of social changes. In particular the film shows how adversity can bring the best and worst out in people.
The film creates a powerful emotional impact as we see the idolised world of a simple mining village torn apart by the overwhelming social and economic upheavals. However, at the same time as portraying the ideals of the community, the film does not hold back from illustrating the narrow mindedness of many individuals. In particular, the deacon comes across as the archetypal religious zealot and hypocrite. Perhaps his evangelical self-righteousness is slightly over played but it makes a sharp contrast with the self-sacrificing minister, Mr. Gruffydd played by Walter Pidgeon. Eventually Mr Gruffydd is forced out of the village due to the innuendo and gossip of village busybodies, despite denying himself the woman he loves.
The film is beautifully shot; there are striking contrasts between the beauty of the Welsh countryside and the dominating presence of the coal mine. The photography and music help give the film an uplifting presence, amidst the struggles and misfortunes of many of those involved.
Many regret that How Green Was My Valley was awarded the Academy award in 1942 rather than Citizen Kane. Maybe How Green Is My Valley is a little dated now, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.