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David (1951)


Main image of David (1951)
35mm, black and white, 38 mins
DirectorPaul Dickson
Production CompanyWorld Wide Pictures
ProducerJames Carr
ScriptPaul Dickson
PhotographyRonnie Anscombe
MusicGrace Williams
NarratorWynford Jones

Cast: D.R. Griffiths (Dafydd Rhys); John Davies (Ifor Morgan); Sam Jones (Rev Mr Morgan); Rachel Thomas (Mrs Morgan); Mary Griffiths (Mary Rhys); Gwenyth Petty (Mary Rhys as a Young Girl)

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The life story of Dafydd Rhys Griffiths, ex-miner and caretaker of Amman Valley Grammar School in Ammanford.

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An unassuming veteran school caretaker and former miner dominates Paul Dickson's deeply affecting drama-documentary David, the Welsh selection for 1951 Festival of Britain screenings in London. It's a portrait of a representative yet remarkable man, seen as a role model for future generations.

Caretaker D.R. (David Rees) Griffiths was a respected Welsh poet under the bardic name 'Amanwy', and brother to former South Wales Miners Federation president Jim Griffiths (miners' leader, MP for Llanelli 1936-70 and first Secretary of State for Wales 1964-65). David brings D.R. Griffiths (1882-1953) out of his brother's shadow. In the film he plays himself, thinly-veiled, as 'Dafydd Rhys' and the work reflects much of his own story.

Dickson's meticulously constructed film has great poignancy, especially in Dafydd Rhys's emotional withdrawal from school life after his son's death. In a painfully eloquent scene, Ifor observes Dafydd Rhys cleaning windows. The caretaker fails to register the boy's attempts to distract him as water from his sponge slides down the windowpane between them (a simple, effective metaphor).

When Dafydd Rhys takes the boy to his former pit, now derelict, a dissolve takes us back to his first working day. He talks of his pride in the job and appreciation of his fellow miners' courage and intelligence - sentiments gleaned from D.R. Griffiths' long experience in different pits. Recollections are enhanced by effective montage.

In real life, David Griffiths was badly injured in a mining accident in 1908, which killed his brother. In the film, narration is disrupted with impressionistic glimpses of the pitfall which ends Dafydd Rhys' mining career, and these shots are intercut with moments of his wife's agony in childbirth, shot in D.R. Griffiths' home at Ammanford. This juxtaposition of disaster and birth scenes in the film suggests renewal.

Later, in Dafydd's emotional extremis, the Eisteddfod scenes - filmed at the 1950 Caerphilly event - provide powerful catharsis. The old man receives consolatory praise from the judges and walks slowly from the tent towards the camera. Impassive and weary, he is still ramrod straight, literally unbowed.

Dickson does not attempt a mining critique. His view of the community is romanticised, but the film is never anodyne. Its integrity and depth of feeling leaves us reflecting less on the dilution or 'invisibility' of its politics and more on the sad erosion of values held by Dafydd.

Dave Berry

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-War Britain 1951-1977'. A short extract can be viewed on the BFI's YouTube channel.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Bad news (4:37)
2. Real man's work (3:19)
3. Royal National Eisteddfod (3:35)
Complete film (36:32)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Blue Scar (1949)
From Pit to Screen
Postwar Documentary