Valley of Song Review

Valley of Song will be released on DVD on the 18th of February. It will also be screening at the Chapter Cinema in Cardiff on Sunday the 10th of February at 17.00 and on Tuesday the 12th of February at 14.30. For further information click here.

Valley of Song takes place in the fictional Welsh village of Cwmpant, a small mining community with a strong choral tradition. Our visit coincides with the return of Geraint Llewellyn (Clifford Evans), who has been working as a choirmaster in London. As circumstance would have it, Cwmpant’s own choirmaster has just passed away, prompting the local minister (Mervyn Johns) to position Geraint as his replacement. All goes swimmingly – this is, by all appearances, a very friendly village – until he decides to name the solo performers for an upcoming regional choral competition. Out goes regular contralto Mrs Lloyd (Rachel Thomas) and in comes Mrs Davies (Betty Cooper). Unfortunately for Cwmpant, much of its meagre population is made up of the Lloyd and Davies families, resulting in a feud that escalates as the picture progresses.

Made as a supporting feature by Associated British, Valley of Song proves to be a surprisingly full affair despite its inauspicious origins. The central conflict is told in a semi-comic, semi-dramatic fashion which also finds room for a romantic subplot, plenty of scenery-chewing supporting turns and a healthy dose of the musical. The romance is supplied by a young John Fraser and ‘the next Vivien Leigh’ Maureen Swanson, who just so happen to be a Lloyd and a Davis and therefore add a slight Romeo and Juliet flavour to the tale. (Incidentally, both Fraser and Swanson were Glasgow-born, though they manage the Welsh accents just fine.) Down the cast list eagle-eyed viewers will also spot Kenneth Williams five years before his first Carry On and Desmond Llewelyn a whole decade before he first played Q in From Russia with Love. Rachel Roberts gets a slightly more substantial part – and makes her big screen debut – as local busybody Bessie, though it’s the old folk who really shine through: John Glyn Jones as the bedridden Ebenezer Davies who is forever impatient for the next issue of Eagle comic; and Madoline Thomas as Geraint’s Auntie Mary who also gets all of the best lines. The music, meanwhile, was provided by the London Welsh Association Choral Society and they are called into action as often as possible.

Holding the entire project together is director Gilbert Gunn. This was only his second feature, though he’d previously had experience behind the camera making propaganda shorts during World War II. Some titles have recently cropped up on DVD compilations and demonstrate a definite talent. Tyneside Story from 1944, about shipyards during wartime and their problems in securing a workforce, was a definite standout still impresses for the frankness with which it confronts its issues. Following Valley of Song, Gunn continued a run of features (including the cult-ish sci-fi effort The Strange World of Planet X and Adam Faith’s Loch Ness comedy What a Whopper), but they dried up during the early sixties. As with many former documentary makers he gained some work with the Children’s Film Foundation before seeing out his career with a sextet of golf-themed instructional shorts.

Hardly the greatest of ends, then, and it perhaps stings all the more after watching something like Valley of Song. Whilst the film is never less than predictable it does an excellent job of rising above its material in order to be consistently entertaining. Gunn goes about his business in a pleasingly no-nonsense manner, allowing his actors the room to make their mark without impacting to heavily on the narrative flow. Indeed, at a mere 72 minutes Valley of Song is pleasingly unfussy and a more than welcome find from the archive. As with this month’s other Welsh-themed release from StudioCanal, The Last Days of Dolwyn (reviewed here), it makes you eager to find out which other minor gems have been lingering in the shadows.


A barebones release from StudioCanal, though its presentation is perfectly acceptable. Valley of Song is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and finds itself in a decent shape. There are a couple of bouts of instability and the odd bit of damage here and there in the form of scratches and other signs of age, but nothing that proves too distracting. The image is reasonable crisp (some of the long shots do look a little soft) and the contrast levels are excellent. The soundtrack fares slightly better, coming across much as you would expect from an early fifties’ supporting feature. With that said the choral aspect is strong and there are optional English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing.

Valley of Song will be released on DVD on the 18th of February. It will also be screening at the Chapter Cinema in Cardiff on Sunday the 10th of February at 17.00 and on Tuesday the 12th of February at 14.30. For further information click here.

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