John Ford’s revered masterpiece ‘How Green Was My Valley’ (1941).

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.

Photo credit: The header image is a scene from the film How Green Was My Valley (1941) which is courtesy of 20th Century Fox. I make use of the image under the rational of fair use. It enables me to makes an important contribution to the readers understanding of the article, which could not practically be communicated by words alone by placing one of the key character of the film, played by Maureen O’Hara into the frame. I am not the uploader of the YouTube clip embedded here.

4 comments on “John Ford’s revered masterpiece ‘How Green Was My Valley’ (1941).

  1. Great write-up Robert. As an aside, while coal and coal mining helped forge the Industrial Revolution, and provided millions of jobs in the U.K., Germany, the U.S., Russia, and later China, it was horrible work that was destructive to the environment and those who toiled in the mines. Thought it’s been economically rough for coal mining regions once dependent on the industry, I for one am glad natural gas and renewable energy have largely replaced coal in many parts of the world.

  2. Wonderful movie! You did an excellent review.

  3. I haven’t seen this one! I am going hunting for it asap! Thanks Rob

  4. This review was great as always!

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