Richard Llewellyn’s bestselling 1939 novel was quickly adapted for film, directed by John Ford. It actually beat Citizen Kane in the Academy Awards. From an artistic viewpoint it’s beautifully filmed, very musical with male voice choirs and constant background music, and good acting even though I’m not entirely sure about some of the accents. The story is about Huw Morgan and his family as they weather various highs and lows in a Welsh mining village. There is not quite the sense of impending doom that we get in the book, but there is still the awful tragic conclusion.
As an adaptation, it neatly communicates the nostalgic, community-spirited essence of the book and the characters are spot-on. However, it’s a more sentimental vision than the book, with a particular focus on the unfulfilled and somewhat uninteresting romance between Huw’s sister Angharad and the preacher Mr Gruffydd. The less wholesome aspects of Huw are edited out, such as his encounters with his first girlfriend Ceinwen, demanding to know the facts of life from Mr Gruffydd, and how he was expelled from school. But then the time period is very compressed and Huw never reaches adolescence in this adaptation. Antagonism between Welsh and English people, one of the book’s preoccupations, is not present in the film, certainly a diplomatic choice during the Second World War. I think the biggest loss is the narrative voice of the older, contemporary Huw, who has very few lines. Quite often, the film will show what’s going on between the adults and Huw isn’t even there, while in the book he’s always present, even if the adults don’t realise it.
It is perfectly possible to appreciate the film without having read the book, but if you want more background on the characters then reading it will be rewarding.