Top Welsh directors: Endaf Emlyn

Black and white photograph of Endaf Emlyn with a camera

Last updated: 05 March 2010

Endaf Emlyn (1944-)

Three impressive features in the 1990s stamped north Walian director Endaf Emlyn - a former singer, musician, composer and TV presenter - as one of the most distinctive filmmakers to emerge from Wales in the past three decades.

Emlyn had previously made one-off and multi part dramas for S4C but his 1988 Stormydd Awst (Storms of August) made history as the first S4C feature made on 35mm. Set around his home town of Pwllheli, the film - with its humour thinly spread - suffered its longeurs and sank without trace but Une Nos Ola Leuad (One Full Moon, 1991) marked a creative leap forward.

This courageous, bracing version of Caradog Prichard's story captures the work's disturbing and sinister undertones as the fated protagonist's flood of memories are released. It presents unpredictable, savage events in a rural religious community and the unhinging of the main character (played by Dyfan Roberts).

This singular, lugubrious individual seeks absolution for a youthful aberration or two and the film's totally absorbing second half weaves flashbacks of a blighted life with episodes in the man's last walk to his home village and inexorable self-destruction.

Emlyn juggles time with panache to examine the source of the man's self-loathing. Trenchant, poignant and shocking in turns, the film never allows the pall of gloom over the protagonist to lift, as we pick up more and more knowledge and allusions from a youth seeped in Puritanical religious dogmatism. In passing, Emlyn allows us to glimpse the destruction of other lives eked out at the extreme of civilised behaviour.

One Full Moon, one of only two films produced by Ffilm Cymru - set up by BBC and S4C to make a string of features - gained few cinema screenings, for all its merits, but Emlyn's follow-up Gadael Lenin (Leaving Lenin, 1993) won the audience vote for most popular British film at the London Film Festival.

Ostensibly a comedy, the film offers much more. This study of a south Wales school's trip to St Petersburg at the the end of Communist domination, provides scope for Emlyn and his co-writer Sion Eirian to embrace with intelligence and sensitivity an impressive range of ideas.

The film contains reflections on political idealism and Russian iconographic art, the obligations of the artist and the futility of hero-worship. Emlyn also introduces into the mix a homosexual love affair involving a Welsh pupil and a Russian at this time, post the introduction of Perestroika and Glasnost, of increasing liberalisation, social and political flux and changing values. At the film's heart are three fine performances, as the teachers on the trip, from Sharon Morgan, Wyn Bowen Harries and Ifan Huw Dafydd.

The 1995 Y Mapiwr (The Making of Maps) was another fine achievement, a youthful rites of passage movie, and a study of sinister, symbiotic family relationships as a boy is drawn into a world of adultery and murderous collusion. It had odd occasional echoes of Andrew Birkin's feature The Cement Garden (1993).

Emlyn later made one of the first three series of Tair Chwaer/Three Sisters (1997-99), S4C dramas exploring women's concerns and showcasing Welsh women's writing and acting talents, and in 1999 he made his English language debut with the three part HTV drama The Company of Strangers.

Emlyn had first announced himself as a filmmaker by winning a 1983 Celtic International Film Festival prize with Shampw, a modest but lively programme centred on pop group Bando. He then made a clutch of S4C dramas including Gaucho (1983), a quasi-Western set in Patagonia, the 1985 Dyn Nath Ddwyn y Nadolig (The Man Who Stole Christmas) and Y Cloc (The Clock) (1986).

Through the 1980s and 1990s Emlyn's company Gaucho, and his collaborations with regular producer Pauline Williams, offered valued guarantees of quality and initiative within S4C's drama schedules.

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