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I was inspired to watch this film after reading Arnold H. Lubasch’s biography of Paul Robeson, Robeson: An American Ballad. Lubasch tells the story of Robeson encountering a group of Welsh miners in London. On hearing that they had marched all the way from Wales to petition the government for help, Robeson joined them in their march, performed an impromptu concert for them and raised money for them and their families. He later performed concerts in South Wales and developed a strong attachment to the mining community there. This strong bond meant that The Proud Valley, filmed on location in the mining villages of South Wales and in some ways mirroring this real-life story, was the film that he felt most proud to have acted in.
Made in 1939, it is a patriotic film with an emphasis on everyone doing his/her bit for the war effort, a bit overly sentimental in places but with some good acting (despite the occasionally dodgy Welsh accents) and naturally with some very fine singing from Robeson, both solo and as part of a choir. The Radio Times Film Guide gives it only 2 stars and dismisses Robeson’s performance, but I feel this is rather unfair. The story might be a bit hackneyed and the miners unnaturally good, but Robeson’s acting is fine and his singing is sublime as always. I found it an enjoyable watch and the end, though somewhat predictable, still moved me. A film of its time and, as such, recommended.