The villagers of Cwmgiedd, southwest Wales, are the stars of Humphrey Jennings’ unforgettably inventive drama-doc. At Lidice, Czechoslovakia, a mining community’s entire male population was executed by the Nazis in 1942. Jennings (often said to be Britain’s greatest documentary filmmaker) ingeniously retells the story as if happening in Cwmgiedd, whose inhabitants re-enact the tragic events.
It’s a brilliant counterfactual twist on the ‘story documentary’ format so often favoured by the wartime Crown Film Unit, not only expressing with great power and empathy the tragedy, bravery and moral importance of Lidice but also making unbearably palpable, for domestic viewers of the time, what is at stake for Britain in its defence against German invasion. It’s also brilliantly filmmaking, reserved at first then building, with Jennings’ characteristic attention to telling visual and aural detail, to an emotionally wrenching climax. Last but not least, it’s a deeply felt tribute, by the most English of Englishmen, to Welshness and Wales.