Quality film news, reviews and features
2nd February 2013 01:00:00
Posted by Anthony Nield

The Last Days of Dolwyn

DVD Video Review
The Last Days of Dolwyn will be released on DVD on the 18th of February. It will also be screening at the Chapter Cinema in Cardiff on Sunday the 3rd of February at 17:00 and on Wednesday the 5th of February at 14:30. For further information click here.

Emlyn Williams CBE was an actor, playwright, screenwriter and novelist. Welsh born and Oxford educated, his career encompassed the stage, the screen, television and radio, commencing in the late 1920s when he first joined a theatrical troupe and receiving its first major breakthrough in 1935 when he wrote and starred in Night Must Fall, a psychological thriller that would make the transition to the big screen in 1937 (for a Hollywood adaptation) and 1964 (with Albert Finney in the lead role). It would prove to be just one of the many highpoints in a highly eclectic body of work, one that took in both writing and acting for Alfred Hitchcock (respectively The Man Who Knew Too Much and Jamaica Inn), playing Charles Dickens and Dylan Thomas in hugely popular one-man shows, penning an account of the Moors murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley (the best-selling Beyond Belief: A Chronicle of Murder and its Detection, first published in 1968), contributing to Jessie Matthews musicals, and even guest-starring in Rumpole of the Bailey. There’s plenty more that I haven’t mentioned – such as embodying Caligula for Josef von Sternberg’s abandoned I, Claudius – but then that only goes to show how just how prolific Williams was.

Amidst all this activity, Williams also found time to direct a sole feature film. The Last Days of Dolwyn (which he also wrote and took a major role in) was loosely inspired by the flooding of the village of Llanwddyn in 1888 which created Lake Vyrnwy so as to provide fresh water for Liverpool and much of Merseyside. Many years later these same events would inspire the Manic Street Preachers song Ready for Drowning, but for Williams’ purposes they allow an intriguing combination of nostalgia, gentle comedy and occasional doses of something a little darker. He plays Robert Davies, a former resident of the village of Dolwyn (Llanwddyn renamed) who returns to inform its populace of the impending flooding. He offers them work and accommodation in Liverpool, yet there is a sense of revenge in his mission – he was effectively exiled upon stealing from the chapel in his youth. Meanwhile, a pre-fame Richard Burton plays Gareth, a young man who tried to find work in Liverpool but struggled with city life, and provides a romantic subplot. Plus we have Edith Evans (best known for portraying Lady Bracknell in the 1952 film version of The Importance of Being Earnest) as Gareth’s adoptive mother and a woman who refuses to budge from her lifelong home.

Despite playing the villain of the piece, Williams clearly has a great deal of fondness for his chosen setting. He was rarely able explicitly convey his Welsh background onscreen (notable exceptions included King Vidor’s The Citadel, in which he both acted and contributed to the screenplay, and The Heart of Show Business, a 1967 televised tribute concert for the Aberfan Disaster Memorial Fund), yet in The Last Days of Dolwyn it is writ large. Admittedly much of its titular village was created at Denham Studios in Buckinghamshire with the help of painted backdrops, but the sense of nostalgia is remains strong. Dialogue regularly slips between Welsh and Gaelic, whilst cinematographer Otto Heller (later to shoot The Ipcress File and Peeping Tom among many others) conjures up a suitably hazy mood. Williams also indulges the local banter and sense of community, though curiously he also paints many of his characters as incredibly naïve. It is difficult, at times, to know whether we should be laughing with them or at them.

Nevertheless, such scenes – especially those in the local tavern – bring to mind the Ealing comedies of Passport to Pimlico (released just two months prior to The Last Days of Dolwyn) and The Titfield Thunderbolt, although there is one major difference. Whereas the ‘Burgundians’ of the former and villagers of the latter would end triumphant, we already know, thanks to the opening framing device, that Dolwyn will end up entirely underwater and that two of its residents will perish. Indeed, alongside the charm and quaint humour The Last Days of Dolwyn also has a darker tale to tell and, slowly but surely, this tone takes over as the film progresses. Perhaps owing to Williams’ inexperience behind the camera the two don’t always sit quite so well together onscreen as they should (veteran editor Russell Lloyd was instilled by production company London Films as ‘associate director’ to provide Williams with help and guidance), but then there’s no denying that it makes for an intriguing mixture. And ultimately, that’s exactly what The Last Days of Dolwyn is – it may not entirely satisfy, but it’s certainly an intriguing little film.

THE DISC

The Last Days of Dolwyn hasn’t been seen in the UK since a Channel Four screening in 1998. This new DVD from StudioCanal represents its first showing on any home entertainment format which should make it enticing enough for many. After all, there are no extras whatsoever and the presentation quality is decidedly average. The film appears in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and comes without any digital remastering. The soundtrack shows its age more than the picture quality, with crackle and hiss present more often than not. The image similarly demonstrates signs of wear and tear, though never to quite the same extent, plus it is a touch on the soft side with a vaguely milky contrast. Despite such issues the disc is never less than watchable and most will deem it acceptable. English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing are also available.

The Last Days of Dolwyn will be released on DVD on the 18th of February. It will also be screening at the Chapter Cinema in Cardiff on Sunday the 3rd of February at 17:00 and on Wednesday the 5th of February at 14:30. For further information click here.

Details and Specifications
DVD Video Review

Region: 0

Certificate: PG

Distributor:
StudioCanal

Running Time:
91 mins approx
Soundtracks:
English DD2.0

Subtitles:
English HOH

Director:
Emlyn Williams

Main cast:
Edith Evans
Emlyn Williams
Richard Burton
Anthony James
Alan Aynesworth
Barbara Couper
Andrea Lea
Hugh Griffith
-- more --
Ratings
Film
7
Video
6
Audio
5
Extras
0
6
About Anthony Nield
Anthony hails from Cheltenham and has been writing about film for the best part of a decade. His particular obsessions include British and experimental cinema, non-fiction, and films that have fallen by the wayside. You'll find him reviewing such works in the DVD and Blu-ray sections, plus the occasional feature.