DVD: The Last Days of Dolwyn | Film reviews, news & interviews
DVD: The Last Days of Dolwyn
Charming Welsh melodrama proves the perfect vehicle for Richard Burton's first film
Years before Cleopatra (1963), Richard Burton played an orphaned shopkeeper in a quaint melodrama. It was his film debut. The Last Days of Dolwyn is written and directed by Emlyn Williams, a fellow Welshman, who gave Burton his first stage role in 1944. In Dolwyn, out five years later, Burton is magnetic.
The film zooms in on a Welsh village under threat from English gentry planning to supply Liverpool with water and flooding the area in the process. Burton seems awkward at times, but lends a rich complexity to his sensitive and volatile character, Gareth. Williams, the more dazzling star, plays Rob, a weasely agent for the scheme with poise and allure. More than money, he wants revenge on residents who punished him as a boy for stealing. Gareth's God-fearing foster mother, Merri (Edith Evans) is the only one who can stop his plan.
Burton imbues Gareth with acute status anxiety, narrowly escaping the ridiculous. Having picked up the lost glove of the niece of a baronet in a field, Gareth is too scared to return it. But Burton makes the most of a line when she comes into his shop to buy a new pair, trembling: “We have not got nothing good enough to offer... even grammar.” Burton does fierce better than tender, and words better than movement. As he pulls the glove out of the drawer by one of its silky fingers, after the girl has gone, he looks demonic, hinting at a later violent scene. In the climactic episode, when he gets into a fight with Rob (over the water scheme not the niece), he holds his own.
Williams gives a convincing impression of a rural idyll populated by sheep, with lingering shots of fields accompanied by flutes and violins. Special effects of a church spire nosing out of the flood are fantastic. The film is too moralistic for modern tastes, but it is especially significant for Burton. On set, he met Sybil Williams, an extra. The year the film came out they married.
Watch the shop scene from The Last Days of Dolwyn
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top films out now
They are undoubtedly seven, but are they magnificent?
Two film noirs showcase the impeccable coolness of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake
Poignancy of friendship explored in sensitive new film from Ira Sachs
Bestselling book reborn as underpowered movie
Five films from the great German director offer insights into his inconsistency
Inept, patronising Highland romcom from debut writer/director Talulah Riley
Unforgiving dissection of the consequences of Argentina's dictatorship chills
A frustratingly timid return to the found-footage woods
Intimate portrait of a Hollywood diva fills in the darkest shadows
Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth star in a sparkling return to form for the franchise
Inhuman employment's human cost is weighed in a French prize-winner