The Proud Valley

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The Proud Valley
The Proud Valley UK quad poster.jpg
Original UK quad format film poster
Directed byPen Tennyson
Written byLouis Golding
Pen Tennyson
Jack Jones
Story byFredda Brilliant
Herbert Marshall
Produced byMichael Balcon
StarringPaul Robeson
Edward Chapman
Simon Lack
Rachel Thomas
Edited byRay Pitt
Production
company
Distributed byABFD (UK)
Release date
  • 3 March 1940 (1940-03-03) (UK)
[1]
Running time
76 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish

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.

Plot[edit]

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 forced to gather coal off the top of a spoil heap, but they are unable to receive the same amount of pay that the mine had made them and many have to accept 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 too busy focusing on building up an 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 and trap the team inside. Their candle flickers constantly, indicating the oxygen 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's 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, discovering David's lifeless body nearby and pray for David's soul, and the mine is reopened. The town sing in unison as the coal is transported through the mine.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

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]

Release[edit]

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[edit]

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 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".[10]

Significance[edit]

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[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "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. ^ a b 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. ^ Sweet, Matthew (2005). Shepperton Babylon. Faber and Faber. p. 172.

External links[edit]