The Proud Valley

Last updated

The Proud Valley
The Proud Valley UK quad poster.jpg
Original UK quad format film poster
Directed by Pen Tennyson
Written by Louis Golding
Pen Tennyson
Jack Jones
Story by Fredda Brilliant
Herbert Marshall
Produced by Michael Balcon
Starring Paul Robeson
Edward Chapman
Simon Lack
Rachel Thomas
Edited by Ray Pitt
Distributed by ABFD (UK)
Release date
  • 3 March 1940 (1940-03-03)(UK)
Running time
76 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Proud Valley is a 1940 Ealing Studios film starring Paul Robeson. Filmed in the South Wales coalfield, the principal Welsh coal mining area, the film is about a seaman who joins a mining community. It includes their passion for singing as well as the dangers and precariousness of working in a mine.



David Goliath is an African-American sailor who deserts his ship when it arrives in Wales. He climbs onto the back of a freight train and meets Bert, who is work-shy and scoffs at David's determination to seek employment. The train arrives at a small mining town and the two men briefly attempt to busk before being scolded by Mrs Parry for making unpleasant noise outside her shop. They stop outside a building where a male choir are rehearsing and David begins singing along. The choir conductor, Dick Parry, is determined to make David a member and offers him lodgings at his house. Despite his wife, Mrs Parry, objecting to the idea, her protests are moot when their sons and daughters side with their father. Dick gets David a job as a miner to work along with him and his eldest son Emlyn, much to the racist objections of one of the workers, but Dick and David accidentally mine close to gas, causing a fire, in which many miners perish. Emlyn was not present at the site that morning and rushes into the mine as a rescuer; David carries Dick out of the fire but is unable to save him.

A month later, Dick's choir appears at a competition but only David performs for Dick's memory. The mine has been closed since the disaster and the rest of the miners are reduced to gathering coal from the top of a spoil heap, but they are unable to make the same amount of money that the mine had paid them and many have to claim social benefits. A year later, Mrs Parry is struggling with five children to care for and is visited by Mrs Owen—the mother of Emlyn's fiancée, Gwen—who snaps that Gwen is not allowed marry Emlyn because he cannot make enough money to look after her. Gwen later sneaks to the Parry house and tells Emlyn that she would marry him no matter his income, which gives Emlyn the idea to march to London and demand that the government reopens the mine. Emlyn takes David and two other miners and they walk to London, and arrive the day after Germany invaded Poland. The British government are busy focusing on building up the army and reopen the mine to send the gatecrashers away. The team return to Wales and attempt to reopen the mine, but a large fire causes the mine to collapse which traps the team inside. Their candle flickers, indicating the oxygen is disappearing and David estimates they have an hour left until suffocation. One miner finds a weak rock and tries to break through with a pickaxe but he and David fail. Emlyn decides to leave the group to explode an exit through with dynamite, but, knowing that it could lead to another Parry death, David sneaks away as the rest of their team pray and punches Emlyn unconscious, activating the dynamite and breaking through the rock. The other two miners wake up Emlyn, discover David's lifeless body nearby and pray for David's soul. The mine is reopened and the town sing in unison as the coal is transported through the mine.



From a treatment entitled David Goliath by the married writing team of Herbert Marshall and Fredda Brilliant, friends of Robeson in Highgate and Moscow, The Proud Valley's script was written by Louis Golding with the help of the novelist Jack Jones. [2]

Robeson's role was based on the real-life adventures of a Black miner from West Virginia who drifted to Wales by way of England, searching for work. [3] After two years of refusing offers from major studios, Robeson agreed to appear in this independent British production, seeing (he told The Glasgow Sentinel) an opportunity to "depict the Negro as he really is—not the caricature he is always represented to be on the screen." [4]

Filming was completed in September 1939 but producer Michael Balcon and director Pen Tennyson were forced to re-cut the ending of the film in the new jingoistic atmosphere following the outbreak of war. An ending in which the workers took control of the mine was replaced with a scene in which management agreed to make concessions to the miners. [5]


In December 1939, the film was unofficially previewed in Neath Port Talbot and, according to newspaper articles at the time, was well received by the Welsh audience who commented on the authenticity of background and detail. [1]

The first film to premiere on radio, on 25 February 1940, [6] The Proud Valley was first screened to the trade & cinema bookers on the 9 January 1940 before opening to the public on screens nationwide, including the Birmingham Gaumont and the Middlesbrough Hippodrome, from the 3 March 1940 onwards, and in London at the Leicester Square Theatre on the 8th. [1]

Critical reception

Robeson's criticism of British and French appeasement and strident pro-Soviet statements (immediately after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact) led to his (and by extension the film) being placed on a publicity blacklist by Lord Beaverbrook, proprietor of the Daily Express . [7] However, the Monthly Film Bulletin described the film as a "moving and enthrallingly interesting story of courage, endurance and self-sacrifice," praising it as "an outstanding achievement for all concerned" and singling out Pen Tennyson's "sensitive and skillful" direction and Robeson's "impressive presence" and "glorious voice". [8]

Variety disparaged the film as possessing "not much dramatic wealth" and compared it unfavourably with Carol Reed's The Stars Look Down . The reviewer also complained that Robeson "delivers only two songs and neither solo". [9] The New York Times reviewer criticized the “purple” acting and rambling plot, but praised the authenticity of the atmosphere and the singing: “it has the virtue of sincerity, and it is lyrical when it sings.” [10]

The film critic Matthew Sweet declared in 2005 that if the film had been completed before the outbreak of war "it would have been the most uncompromisingly Marxist picture ever produced in Anglophone cinema". [11]


In The Proud Valley, Robeson depicts a kind of Black hero rarely seen in Hollywood, one who fuses his political and artistic sensibilities in the image of a Black working man who achieves kinship across boundaries of race and nationality. Years later, Robeson would remark that, of all his films, this was his favorite because it showed workers in a positive light. [1]

The Proud Valley was the first film premiered on radio. An hour long edit of the film was broadcast on the BBC Home Service a week and a half before its London release. [6]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jack Jones (novelist)</span> Welsh miner, Trade Union official, politician and playwright

Jack Jones was a Welsh miner, Trade Union official, politician, novelist and playwright.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Emlyn Williams</span> Welsh writer, dramatist and actor

George Emlyn Williams, CBE was a Welsh writer, dramatist and actor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peggy Ashcroft</span> English actress (1907–1991)

Dame Edith Margaret Emily Ashcroft, known professionally as Peggy Ashcroft, was an English actress whose career spanned more than 60 years.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joseph Parry</span> Welsh composer

Joseph Parry was a Welsh composer and musician. Born in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, he is best known as the composer of "Myfanwy" and the hymn tune "Aberystwyth", on which the African song "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" is said to be based. Parry was also the first Welshman to compose an opera; his composition, Blodwen, was the first opera in the Welsh language.

<i>The Corn Is Green</i> Play by Emlyn Williams

The Corn Is Green is a 1938 semi-autobiographical play by Welsh dramatist and actor Emlyn Williams. The play premiered in London at the Duchess Theatre in September 1938; with Sybil Thorndike as Miss Moffat and Williams himself portraying Morgan Evans, the West End production ran in all for 600 performances. The original Broadway production starred Ethel Barrymore and premiered at the National Theatre in November 1940, running for 477 performances.

"Ar Hyd y Nos" is a Welsh song sung to a tune that was first recorded in Edward Jones' Musical and Poetical Relics of the Welsh Bards (1784). The most commonly sung Welsh lyrics were written by John Ceiriog Hughes (1832-1887), and have been translated into several languages, including English and Breton. One of the earliest English versions, to different Welsh lyrics by one John Jones, was by Thomas Oliphant in 1862.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pit village</span> Settlement for housing colliery workers

A pit village, colliery village or mining village is a settlement built by colliery owners to house their workers. The villages were built on the coalfields of Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution where new coal mines were developed in isolated or unpopulated areas. Such settlements were developed by companies for the incoming workers.

Frank Richards a.k.a. Francis Philip Woodruff DCM, MM was a World War I soldier and author. Born in Monmouthshire, he was orphaned at the age of nine, and was then brought up by his aunt and uncle in the Blaina area of the South Wales Valleys in industrial Monmouthshire. The uncle, his mother's twin brother, and surnamed Richards, adopted Frank who then changed his surname. During the 1890s Frank Richards worked as coal miner and joined Royal Welch Fusiliers in 1901, serving in the British Empire forces in British India under the British Raj and Burma from 1902 to 1909, after which he transferred to the reserves. He is best known as the author of one of the most widely acclaimed memoirs of the Great War to be written by a ranker, Old Soldiers Never Die.

<i>The Citadel</i> (1938 film) 1938 film

The Citadel is a 1938 British drama film based on the 1937 novel of the same name by A. J. Cronin. The film was directed by King Vidor and produced by Victor Saville for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer British at Denham Studios. It stars Robert Donat and Rosalind Russell.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rachel Thomas (actress)</span> Welsh actress (1905–1995)

Rachel Thomas OBE, was a Welsh character actress.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert Adams (actor)</span> Guyanese actor

Robert Adams was a British Guyanese actor of stage and screen. He was the founder and director of the Negro Repertory Arts Theatre, one of the first professional black theatre companies in Britain, and became Britain's first black television actor when he appeared in Theatre Parade: Scenes From Hassan on BBC TV in 1937. He was also the first Black actor to play a Shakespearian role on television, in 1947.

Frederick Penrose "Pen" Tennyson was a British film director whose promising career was cut short when he died in a plane crash. Tennyson gained experience as an assistant director to Alfred Hitchcock in several of his British films during the 1930s. Tennyson directed three films between 1939 and his death in 1941.

<i>The Stars Look Down</i> (film) 1940 film by Carol Reed

The Stars Look Down is a British film from 1940, based on A. J. Cronin's 1935 novel of the same title, about injustices in a mining town in North East England. The film, co-scripted by Cronin and directed by Carol Reed, stars Michael Redgrave as Davey Fenwick and Margaret Lockwood as Jenny Sunley. The film is a New York Times Critics' Pick and is listed in The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made.

Roger Tiley is a Welsh documentary photographer. His work on documenting the coal mines of Wales and America has been used extensively in publications. Specifically during the UK miners' strike (1984–1985).

<i>Sanders of the River</i> 1935 British film by Zoltán Korda

Sanders of the River is a 1935 British film directed by the Hungarian-British director, Zoltán Korda, based on the stories of Edgar Wallace. It is set in Colonial Nigeria. The lead Nigerian characters were played by African Americans Paul Robeson and Nina Mae McKinney. The film proved a significant commercial and critical success, giving Korda the first of his four nominations for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Evan Williams (tenor)</span> American singer

Harry Evan Williams was an oratorio tenor. He recorded almost one hundred 78-RPM records for the Victor Talking Machine Company in the United States and The Gramophone Company (HMV) in England. Williams gave more than 1,000 performances and recitals during his 25-year professional career across the United States and in England and Wales. Williams was praised most highly by critics for his interpretations of Handel.

<i>The Silent Village</i> 1943 British film

The Silent Village is a 1943 British propaganda short film in the form of a drama documentary, made by the Crown Film Unit and directed by Humphrey Jennings. The film was named one of the top 5 documentaries of 1943 by the National Board of Review. It was inspired by the Lidice massacre in Czech Republic in June 1942.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ben Parry (musician)</span>

Ben Parry is a British musician, composer, conductor, singer, arranger and producer in both classical and light music fields. He is the Director of London Voices and Artistic Director of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain.

<i>Blue Scar</i> 1949 British film

Blue Scar is a 1949 British drama film directed by documentary filmmaker Jill Craigie. Set in a Welsh village where the mine has recently been nationalised, it focuses on the relationship between Olwen Williams, a miner's daughter who leaves the village to live in London, and Tom Thomas, who dedicates his life to working in the mine. With Craigie's background in documentary films with a social message, Blue Scar was designed to raise questions about the value of nationalising the coal industry. It was the only non-documentary film Craigie directed.

Beverley Anne Humphreys, MBE, is a Welsh operatic and concert soprano and broadcaster. She has become known for her work with refugees and in 2022 was awarded the MBE for "services to Community Cohesion and Broadcasting".


  1. 1 2 3 4 "The Proud Valley". Art & Hue. 2021. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  2. Boyle, Sheila Tully; Bunie, Andrew (2005). Paul Robeson: the years of promise and achievement. Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press. p. 412.
  3. Seton, Marie (1958). Paul Robeson. London: Dennis Dobson. p. 120.
  4. Foner, Philip S (1978). Paul Robeson Speaks. New York: Brunner-Mazel. p. 553.
  5. Sweet, Matthew (2005). Shepperton Babylon. Faber and Faber. p. 172.
  6. 1 2 Bourne, Stephen. "Proud Valley, The (1940)". Screenonline. BFI. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  7. Duberman, Martin Bauml (1989). Paul Robeson. London: The Bodley Head. p. 233.
  8. "The Monthly Film Bulletin". Screenonline. BFI. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  9. Jolo (31 January 1940). Variety Film Reviews 1938-42 (Bowker ed.).
  10. Crowther, Bosley (17 May 1941). "' Proud Valley,' a Story of Welsh Singing-Miners, at the Little Carnegie". New York Times Time Machine. Retrieved 24 December 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. Sweet, Matthew (2005). Shepperton Babylon. Faber and Faber. p. 172.