Hedd Wyn

Released: 1992
Production: Pendefig Cyf Productions
Director: Paul Turner
Script: Alan Llwyd
Soundtrack: John Hardy
Runtime: 111 minutes

Cast: Huw Garmon as Ellis Evans (aka Hedd Wyn), Catrin Fychan as Magi Evans, Ceri Cunnington as Bob Evans

Hedd Wyn is an example of that rare beast, the Welsh film. It even has the distinction of being the first (and probably only {*}) Welsh film to be nominated for an Oscar. (Best foreign language film I believe, it didn't win though). Which means that most of the dialogue is in the Welsh language and the film was released with the addition of English subtitles for the benefit of those unable to speak the language of heaven.

It tells the tragic and true story of one Ellis Evans, an aspiring poet writing under the bardic pseudonym of Hedd Wyn (1), who lived and worked on the family farm near Trawsfynydd, a village in north Wales. The film charts the progression of his life, from his life on the farm to his first success at the Pwllheli Eisteddfod to arrival of the Great War and his conscription and final death at the Battle of Passchendaele.

The film begins and ends with the posthumous chairing (2) of Ellis Evans at the National Eisteddfod at Birkenhead and essentially tells the story of his life in flashback. It also frequently flashes forward to scenes of Ellis Evans dying on the field of battle, underlined with excerpts from his poetic works. There would be no point in attempting to maintain any sense of suspense or mystery about the outcome since everybody in Welsh speaking Wales knows the story anyway. (It's the sort of story every Welsh child learns in primary school.)

The film was mainly shot on location in north Wales and with the site of a disused airfield near Tenby being utilised to recreate a First World War battlefield. (At one time there was a company offering tours of the various film locations, but I have no idea if they still do so.)

The sort of film that is often described as an "elegiac tribute", it is (perhaps inevitably given its subject matter) a somewhat sentimental film. But then the Welsh are a somewhat sentimental race, particularly after that fifth pint. Thematically the film raises contrasts between the Welsh and English, between war and peace, the family and the army, and between life on the farm as against the experience of life on the battlefield. The battle scenes are well crafted, despite the film's obvious low budget and are successfull in communicating the confusion of battle. It even throws in a little pagan Celtic symbolism with Arianrhod, the Celtic moon goddess poping up now and again in the guise of Ellis Evans' poetic muse.

It is actually a better film than you might imagine it to be, consistently well acted, cinematically well put together and worth seeing if you get the chance if only as a wellcome break from the usual Hollywood shoot em' up.

Private Ellis Humphries Evans of the 15th Royal Welsh Fusiliers
Killed at Pilckem Ridge on 31st July 1917
Buried in Belgium at Artillery Wood Cemetery


{*}Oops, not quite, an achievment matched by Solomon and Gaenor I now find.

(1) By tradition all Welsh poets, pick a bardic name or pseudonym. Ellis Evans chose Hedd Wyn or White Peace as his bardic name

(2) The cadair or chair is awarded each year to the best poem submitted on a set subject composed in the traditional strict metre. Winning a poetry competition might be not such a big deal elsewhere, but in Wales this is the equivalent of almost being proclaimed a national hero.

Sourced from various places but principally http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~rmorley/page9.html and http://www.mediaed.org.uk/posted_documents/Heddwyne.html