Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Every Valley (1957)


Main image of Every Valley (1957)
35mm, black and white, 20 mins
DirectorMichael Clarke
Production CompanyBritish Transport Films
ProducerEdgar Anstey
CommentaryNorman Prouting
PhotographyJames Ritchie
MusicGeorge Frederick Handel

Work, transport and recreation in the South Wales mining valleys, showing the increased opportunities for work and leisure brought to the mining communities by the bus and train services.

Show full synopsis

Every Valley opens on chimneys billowing daybreak steam, and closes on similar scenes by night. In between, it encapsulates daily South Welsh valley life: alternating painterly images of industry, town and fields with well-staged scenes of individual inhabitants, and slightly looser passages capturing thronging community life at work and leisure. The sound accompanying these shots (filmed silent) derives from the interplay between an elegiac, but economically written, free verse commentary with music taken from Handel's Messiah (eventually seen to be emanating from a local choir).

The film expresses an industrial ideology subtly different from those of the National Coal Board Film Unit (as in-house production company for a state corporation, the exact counterpart of Every Valley's production unit, British Transport Films). Coal is at the valleys' emotional core, but increasingly supplanted, economically, by various light industries. Subtly sewn into this embroidered picture is the nationalised transport system linking valleys. We see boats, trains, tracks and, throughout, fleets of buses. Only in a British Transport film could mundane shots of coaches driving along town and rural roads acquire a genuinely rousing epic quality without ever seeming ridiculous. Also characteristic of BTF is the film's optimism for progress, underscored with bittersweet feelings for time's passage.

Every Valley's talented director Michael Clarke personifies the underrated generation of filmmakers who turned out proficient, occasionally inspired work at units like BTF from the late 1940s until the late 1970s. The film's narration was written by Norman Prouting, another lesser-known but prolific mainstay of documentary, who did lengthy stints writing and directing at BTF, and indeed later at the NCB. Released the same year as the celebrated films in the third Free Cinema programme, Every Valley typifies the very best of 'unfree' documentary cinema. The lauded output of Lindsay Anderson and his cohorts was freewheeling sometimes to the point of carelessness, suggesting an authentic messiness behind the 1950s' tidy surface. Every Valley is tightly orchestrated, richly tuneful, meticulously professional, committed to advancement and respect for history. It's imbued with a romantic feeling for musical and social harmony ("colliers and choristers, lovers and the lonely alike").

We needn't share this worldview in order to find it very moving. And contrary to Free Cinema's rhetoric, 'establishment' documentaries were capable of freshness and tenderness. Fifty years on, yesteryear's critical debates have faded and Every Valley can be appreciated as one of the loveliest films in BTF's embarrassingly rich catalogue.

Patrick Russell

*This film is included in the BFI British Transport Films DVD compilation 'Off the Beaten Track'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (18:58)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Anstey, Edgar (1907-1987)
British Transport Films