The Proud Valley is rather a quaint but affecting musical drama written for Paul Robeson by Herbert Marshall and his wife, Alfredda Brilliant, who believed that his mellow singing voice deserved a filmic vehicle of its own. It was the second collaboration between Marshall and the actor and directed by Pen Tennyson (a grandson of the English poet) who died in a plane crash at only 28.
The film is important for several reasons: it authentically portrays and champions the working class mining population of the village and it is a fitting tribute to Paul Robeson who is revered as the finest Black actor of the era (before Sidney Poitier succeeded him), and here is endowed with integrity and honour – qualities that were rarely attributed to Black actors back in the day. It was also the first film to be premiered on radio, on February 25th 1940, when the BBC Home Service broadcast a sixty-minute version, reproduced from its soundtrack.
And Robeson gives a charismatic performance as the unlikely named David Goliath, a genial African American, who fetches up in the small Welsh village in the Rhondda Valley where he finds work down the pits as a stoker. Carousing his fellow workers with All Through the Night, he captures the attention of Dick Parry (Simon Lack/The Silver Darlings) and his son Emlyn (Edward Chapman/Convoy) whose dream is to win the national Welsh choir contest.
But tragedy lurks round the corner and is, unsurprisingly, linked to a mining accident. This gives the film its heroic quality in a working class story that imaginatively reflects the gruelling nature of the times without resorting to melodrama or sentimentality.
The Welsh mining community never forgot Paul Robeson. When he was denied a passport by the US authorities (1950-58), they actively campaigned in his support.
THE PROUD VALLEY IS PART OF THE VINTAGE CLASSICS COLLECTION SHOWCASING ICONIC BRITISH FILMS.
THE DIGITAL RESTORATION WAS FINANCED BY STUDIOCANAL IN COLLABORATION WITH BFI’s LOTTERY-FUNDED UNLOCKING HERITAGE PROGRAMME AND IS AVAILABLE ON 27 march 2017