How Green Was My Valley tells the story of Huw (McDowall), a young boy, living in a coal-mining Welsh village in the turn of the 20th century. He is a curious and sweet boy who sees his father and all his older brothers live the hard life of mining. He is the vessel for their hopes that one of the family will be able to escape such arduous perspectives.
While growing up, leaving childhood behind and entering adolescence, Huw witnesses the transformations happening with his town folks, who start uniting to fight the mining corporation and also participate in the changes happening inside his own family.
This is a heartwarming movie at its core and also great in the technical parts. There is nothing ambitious about the story; it is just the tale of the Morgan family trying to live a meaningful life. But on the other end, there’s so much happening. And that is because everything is seen through Huw’s point of view while he discovers what the world is made of.
All the situations and anecdotes are presented most sympathetically, with Huw’s naivety playing a wonderful part in warming up all the drama and bringing out our tears naturally. This is probably the best coming of age story of the 1940s, going side by side with The Yearling.
Arthur C Miller, the cinematographer, creates great compositions and some are quite beautiful, like when Mr Gruffydd (Pidgeon) is seen as a shadow in the background while watching the love of his life, Angharad (O’Hara) leaving the church after her wedding. The Art Direction by Richard Day and Nathan Juran creates a beautiful and believable Welsh village and the geography they designed is breathtaking in a lot of scenes. Topping it all up is the splendid and emotional score by Alfred Newman.
Although Huw is the protagonist here, a great part of our care for this film comes from us being completely invested in the Morgan family. All the actors are great, especially Sara Allgood and Donald Crisp as Mr and Mrs Morgan, who create such complex and loving characters as a mother and father. But the standout here is Roddy McDowall. He is our guide into all the beauty of this story and we can’t take our eyes away from him. His face speaks volumes of emotion without him saying a word. The eyes are the windows of the soul, and his are wide open, inviting us in for a very emotional ride.