Starring: Maureen O’Hara, Walter Pidgeon, Anna Lee
Director: John Ford
Running Time: 118 mins
How Green Was My Valley is an American film about a family from a small mining town in South Wales whose life is turned upside down after the mine begins to reduce workers’ pay.
John Ford stands as one of the greatest directors of all time without a doubt, with some of his greatest works, such as The Searchers, The Quiet Man and Stagecoach all living on strongly to this day, but I can’t really say that How Green Was My Valley manages to achieve the same thing. Although it’s a well-directed and elegant film, it just doesn’t have the energy or riveting drama to make it as enthralling today as it was at its time, with its extremely contemporary story making for a watch that, while not boring, won’t have you fully engrossed from beginning to end.
Let’s start on the plus side, with the fact that this is a very elegant and generally well-directed film throughout. It’s not quite the greatest work of all time from John Ford, four-time winner of the Oscar for Best Director, but his talent shines through in crafting a film that’s visually vibrant (even for black-and-white), and atmospherically consistent from beginning to end.
Taking place in a small Welsh village, the story is already set up for a wonderful setting, with the rolling hills of the countryside brilliantly depicted by Ford in all their glory, furthered by the stark contrast with the squalid conditions that many of the miners are forced to work in at minimum wage.
Furthermore, there’s a consistently elegant streak throughout the whole film, that matches beautifully with that visual vibrance and wonderful natural setting, but it’s something that penetrates further in providing a story that’s able to be both pleasant and heartfelt as well as the deeply political and passionate one that it is, something that gives it a strong consistency throughout and makes for a more captivating watch than otherwise could have been the case.
However, when it comes to the story at hand, things aren’t quite so enthralling. In all, the film centres on two main plots: the trials and tribulations of the Morgan family, ranging from a young boy’s childhood to his older sister’s romance, as well as how they interact with the second major part of the story; the strife of the miners as they attempt to respond to pay cuts and heavy lay-offs.
On the one hand, those stories do have a good degree of heart to them that matches with Ford’s elegant atmosphere, but on the other, they’re presented in a very traditional and unfortunately dated way that makes it a little hard to really grab you.
While there is clear passion behind the delivery of both stories, neither have the on-screen energy and life to be as captivating as possible, which is a real shame considering that there are still many films from the era with similar stories (Mrs. Miniver for one) that really do have strong emotional power and intrigue throughout, bypassing any issues of age and standing strong to this day.
It’s always very difficult to judge a film so many years after its release, and not being anywhere near a part of its intended audience, however the fact remains that I just couldn’t fall in love with or be truly engrossed by How Green Was My Valley (and I’m really shocked that it took Best Picture away from the one and only Citizen Kane back in 1941).
Overall, then, I have to say that, while How Green Was My Valley is an elegant, visually vibrant and well-directed piece, I wasn’t all that enamoured by it, and struggled to find myself truly enthralled by its story, which is why I’m giving it a 6.8.