The Last Days of Dolwyn (renamed Women of Dolwyn for the American market) is a 1949 British drama film directed by Russell Lloyd and Emlyn Williams and starring Edith Evans, Emlyn Williams, Richard Burton and Anthony James. The screenplay focuses on a Welshman, who has done well in London, who returns home planning to flood the village he grew up in—setting up a conflict between residents who are spiritually attached to the place and the values of the majority for whom money is a more persuasive force.
The film marked the first film appearance of Burton, the first film appearance of Edith Evans since 1916, and the sole film to be directed by Emlyn Williams, who also wrote the screenplay.
The story is set in 1892 in and around the small peaceful (fictional) farming village of Dolwyn in Mid-Wales.
A massive dam and reservoir to supply water to Liverpool has been constructed at the head of the valley above Dolwyn, but construction has stopped because of geological difficulties; what was thought to be limestone is actually granite. Realising that a cheaper and easier scheme would involve the flooding of the village (but unaware that the village was inhabited), Lord Lancashire, the scheme's promoter, dispatches an agent, Rob, to visit the village and buy the land.
Rob persuades a reluctant, and debt-ridden, Lady Dolwyn to sell the land, and also offers the leaseholders large sums for their leases. They are also offered new houses in a Liverpool suburb and jobs in a cotton mill for those who want them. Rob has his own reasons for wanting the village flooded; he is a native of Dolwyn, but was stoned out of it twenty years before for thievery. He therefore hates and despises the villagers, who are actually oblivious to his shameful past and bear him no ill will.
Whilst preparing to pack up and leave, Gareth (played by Richard Burton), who has also lived in England and is more conversant with the language, discovers documents that prove his foster-mother, Merri (who has very little English), has a right to own her land in perpetuity. A solicitor confirms this title.
Lord Lancashire himself visits Merri, but soon realises that this simple village woman cannot be bought off or cajoled. To top it all, she is able to cure his rheumatic shoulder with simple manipulation. He decides to leave the village alone and use the more expensive and difficult method of construction. Rob is furious and decides to open the dam's spillway valves to flood the valley. He is unable to do so and instead decides to set fire to Merri's cottage.
He is confronted by Gareth and a fight ensues. Rob is knocked down by Gareth and he falls into the fire he planned to use for his devilish work. He dies of a heart attack. Merri has witnessed the events and is horrified. Determined that the killing shall not be discovered, she conceals the body in her cottage, then makes her way to the dam's valve room and opens the valves.
The villagers watch sadly from nearby safe ground as their beloved village is slowly drowned. One young shepherd has refused to flee the flood and his defiant, lilting tenor voice is suddenly silenced as the tide consumes him. Thus is fulfilled the message of a short prelude to the film showing a plaque marking the flood and the deaths of two people, only one of whose bodies was recovered.Edith Evans – Merri
Emlyn Williams – Rob
Richard Burton – Gareth
Anthony James – Dafydd
Allan Aynesworth – Lord Lancashire
Barbara Couper – Lady Dolwyn
Andrea Lea – Margaret
Hugh Griffith – The Minister
Maurice Browning – Huw
Rita Crailey – Hen Ann
Eileen Dale – Mrs. Ellis
David Davies – Septimus
Frank Dunlop – Ephrain
Kenneth Evans – Jabbez
Patricia Glyn – Dorcas
Joan Griffiths – Eira
Sam Hinton – Idris
Dafydd Havard – Will
Roddy Hughes – Caradoc
Madoline Thomas – Mrs. Thomas
Tom Jones – John Henry
The film's setting parallels the drowning in the 1880s of the village of Llanwddyn in Lake Vyrnwy to provide water for Liverpool. The emotive content may also be based on Welsh reaction to the construction of the Elan Valley Reservoirs, designed to supply water to Birmingham, and the tragic flooding of the beautiful neighbourhood of Nantgwyllt, beloved of the poet Shelley.
In the 1960s, real life mirrored fiction when Llyn Celyn was built to provide further water to Liverpool, flooding the village of Capel Celyn.
The film performed disappointingly at the box office despite good reviews.