Welsh film history: 1960-69

Black and white photograph of Stanley Baker in Joseph Losey's film Accident (1967)

Last updated: 05 March 2010

For the first time a Welsh filmmaker carried off a Best Director prize at the Hollywood Oscars - and Jack Howells, from Abertysswg in the Rhymney Valley is still alone in achieving the feat.

Howells took the award, in 1963,for his Dylan Thomas (1962), a lyrical and elegiac homage to the poet, gaining much from Richard Burton's on-and-off screen narration, impeccable line delivery and charismatic and slightly raffish screen presence.

The back and white images of Laugharne and Dylan's childhood stamping grounds in Swansea were impeccably married to the words and moods - and the film, made initially for television, was released to UK cinemas through British Lion.

It was ironic that such an award should come in one of the most fallow decades for Welsh filmmaking, though the dearth of home production was concealed a little by the excitement generated by Zulu (1964), produced by its co-star Stanley Baker, an intelligent restrained take on the heroes of the battle against the Zulus at Rorke's Drift in 1879.

Baker and his director Cy Endfield (a former Hollywood Black list victim) could be forgiven any poetic licence taken in lauding the South Wales Borderers, as the film used locations spectacularly and built fine dramatic tension. Zulu, one of the biggest box office successes of the decade was, inevitably, banned in South Africa.

Baker also captured the attention of critics in the 1960s for his performances for Joseph Losey (another Black List target). He was fascinating in the overwrought Eva (1962) as an egotistical fake Welsh writer enjoying La Dolce Vita in Venice until his ego is dented by Jean Moreau's courtesan. The feature offers compelling riffs on the mentality of a certain macho Welsh male, even though its cutting by the producers, the Hakim brothers, forced Baker and others to disavow the film.

Baker earned more acclaim in Losey's Accident (1967) as a highly-strung, lascivious academic caught up in a love ménage with Dirk Bogarde, Michael York and Jacqueline Sassard. The script, pregnant with ambiguities, was by Harold Pinter. The Rhondda actor's other Losey role in the 1960s was in the Criminal (1963) as a hood haunted by memories of his Catholic roots in a screenplay by "Liverpool-Welshman" Alun Owen.

Rachel Roberts proved herself an enviably gifted performer in downbeat roles in the 1960s winning British BAFA awards for her adulterous married woman seduced by Albert Finney in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning from Alan Sillitoe's novel and for This Sporting Life (dir. Lindsay Anderson) as the repressed widow overcome with self-loathing and guilt when courted by her live-in lodger, a rugby league player (Richard Harris).

The 1960s proved to be the most fruitful years of Richard Burton's career with four more Oscar Best Actor nominations. His finest, most nuanced performance was in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as a disenchanted academic locked in a splenetic battle of wills with his coarse-grained wife (Elizabeth Taylor).

Burton was almost equally good as the emotionally fraught and careworn agent in the impressive The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, from the John le Carré novel.

The most memorable of Welsh screen comedies - Only Two Can Play (1962) - featured that cherishable character actor, Tenby's Kenneth Griffith, superb as foil to Peter Sellers.

In documentary Jack Howells followed his Dylan Thomas with Nye (TWW) a portrait of the fiery left wing politician Aneurin Bevan, an intriguingly austere exercise deploying stills only, to accompany favourable and unfavourable opinions of Bevan expressed on the soundtrack by politicians and public alike.

John Ormond produced his best films for television - Borrowed Pasture (1960), centred on Polish war exiles faming arid land in west Wales Once There Was a Time (1961) with two old men exchanging memories while sitting on a Rhondda park bench and From a Town in Tuscany (1963), an resourceful documentary made in one of the towns preparing to visit the Llangollen International Music Festival.

The 1960s also saw the creation of Wales' first college film department at the Gwent College of Higher Education, with the 'father of British documentary' John Grierson as patron and part time lecturer, and documentary filmmaker Harley Jones as its head.

During the decade, Jones worked with Grierson in editing, from the Western Mail offices in Cardiff, This Wonderful World, the much-prized long running Scottish TV compilation series of documentary footage from all around the world.

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