Authors: Emlyn Williams

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Welsh playwright

Author Works

Drama:

Vigil, pr. 1925, pb. 1954 (one act)

Full Moon, pr. 1927

Glamour, pr. 1928

A Murder Has Been Arranged, pr., pb. 1930

Port Said, pr. 1931, revised pr. 1933 (as Vessels Departing)

The Late Christopher Bean, pr., pb. 1933 (adaptation of Sidney Howard’s play)

Spring 1600, pr. 1934, revised pr. 1945

Night Must Fall, pr., pb. 1935

He Was Born Gay: A Romance, pr., pb. 1937

The Corn Is Green, pr., pb. 1938

The Light of Heart, pr., pb. 1940

The Morning Star, pr. 1941, pb. 1942

A Month in the Country, pr. 1943 (adaptation of Ivan Turgenev’s play)

Pen Don, pr. 1943

The Druid’s Rest, pr., pb. 1944

The Wind of Heaven, pr., pb. 1945

Thinking Aloud: A Dramatic Sketch, pr. 1945, pb. 1946

Trespass: A Ghost Story, pr., pb. 1947

Accolade, pr. 1950, pb. 1951

Someone Waiting, pr. 1953, pb. 1954

Beth, pr. 1958, pb. 1959

The Collected Plays, pb. 1961

The Master Builder, pr. 1964 (adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play)

Cuckoo, pb. 1986

Long Fiction:

Headlong, 1980

Dr. Crippen’s Diary: An Invention, 1987

Screenplays:

Friday the Thirteenth, 1933 (with G. H. Moresby-White and Sidney Gilliat)

Evergreen, 1934 (with Marjorie Gaffney)

The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1934 (with A. R. Rawlinson and Edwin Greenwood)

The Divine Spark, 1935 (with Richard Benson)

Broken Blossoms, 1936

The Citadel, 1938 (with Frank Wead, Ian Dalrymple, Elizabeth Hill, and John Van Druten; based on A. J. Cronin’s novel)

This England, 1941 (with Bridget Boland and Rawlinson)

Major Barbara, 1941 (based on George Bernard Shaw’s play)

The Last Days of Dolwyn, 1949

Ivanhoe, 1952 (based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel)

Teleplays:

A Month in the Country, 1947

Every Picture Tells a Story, 1949

In Town Tonight, 1954

A Blue Movie of My Own True Love, 1968

The Power of Dawn, 1976

Radio Plays:

Pepper and Sand, 1947

Emlyn, 1974 (adaptation of his autobiography)

Nonfiction:

George: An Early Autobiography, 1961

Beyond Belief: A Chronicle of Murder and Its Detection, 1967

Emlyn: An Early Autobiography, 1927-1935, 1973

Biography

Playwright, actor, and director George Emlyn Williams was born to a working-class Welsh family; he never heard English spoken until he attended Holywell County School at age ten. Yet his talent as a linguist changed his life when Grace Cooke, a London social worker, recognized his extraordinary ability and helped him win a scholarship to Saint Julien’s in Switzerland and then to Christ Church College, Oxford, from which he received his degree in 1927.{$I[AN]9810001532}{$I[A]Williams, Emlyn}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Williams, Emlyn}{$I[geo]WALES;Williams, Emlyn}{$I[tim]1905;Williams, Emlyn}

Williams became involved in Oxford University Drama Society productions, first acting and then writing a one-act play, Vigil, produced with the playwright in the lead. Even this initial effort presaged some of the characteristics of Williams’s best work: the Welsh background, the fascination with murder, and the roles that he created for himself.

In 1927, Full Moon, his first full-length play, was staged. During the next several years, while acting in London in productions of plays by Luigi Pirandello, Émile Zola, Sean O’Casey, and others, Williams found time to write his first important drama, A Murder Has Been Arranged. The most noteworthy element is the main character, Maurice Mullins, a bright, attractive young man who misuses his charm for a nefarious end, the murder of his uncle.

Williams’s next few efforts were not successful, although his adaptation of The Late Christopher Bean (changed from its New England setting to an English one) received excellent reviews, primarily as the result of Dame Edith Evans’s appearance as Guenny, a Welsh maid. During these years, the playwright continued to act in London and New York and did several film roles as well. In 1935 Night Must Fall established Williams as a major dramatist.

In the introduction to The Collected Plays, Williams remarked, “There was only one living playwright sufficiently interested in my acting to write a part which only I could play. Me!” Because Night Must Fall begins with the Lord Chief Justice’s declaration that the “prisoner is to be hanged by the neck until dead,” the audience, aware of the outcome, can concentrate on the dazzling performance of the psychopathic killer created and played by Williams.

Dan, a pageboy at a resort in Essex, uses his affair with Mrs. Bramson’s maid, Dora, as an excuse to move into the Bramson cottage, where he soon works his wiles on the elderly hypochondriac. Mrs. Bramson’s niece, Olivia, suspects that he is “acting,” and when the decapitated body of a female guest missing from the hotel is found in the woods nearby, the strange sealed hatbox belonging to Dan takes on more than casual significance. Strangely fascinated, Olivia almost saves Dan, although he has murdered her aunt and threatened her. When Inspector Belsize interrupts Dan’s final act–setting the cottage on fire to cover his crimes–the psychopath feels compelled to confess with much bravado, promising to “give ’em their money’s worth at the trial.” Williams’s fascination with murder and psychopathic murderers makes Night Must Fall a seminal example of the genre.

In 1938 Williams’s wife, Molly, suggested that he write a play about the teacher who changed his life; he did so in The Corn Is Green. Grace Cooke became Miss Moffat, a woman determined to run a school for Welsh miners and their children. She discovers Morgan Evans (played by the playwright), an exceptional fifteen-year-old, and grooms him for admission to Oxford. The young man succeeds, but all is nearly lost when a single encounter with the sluttish Bessie Watty results in a child. In a somewhat improbable denouement, Miss Moffat decides to adopt the baby so that Morgan is free to go on with his life. Yet because the major characters come out of Williams’s own life experiences, both the teacher and the young Welshman are believable. When The Corn Is Green was staged in New York with Ethel Barrymore as the teacher, it won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the Best Foreign Play of 1941.

Williams played more than fifty roles on stages in London, Stratford, and on various tours from 1927 through 1950, and many of these plays were also directed by the actor. Additionally, from 1932 through 1955, he acted in more than twenty films.

Williams scored his greatest triumph in 1952 with his one-man show in which he impersonated Charles Dickens–complete with Victorian costume, props, and makeup–reading from Dickens’s works, just as the novelist had done a century earlier. After successfully appearing in England, Europe, North America, and South Africa with this tour de force, the actor began a series of public readings from the works of his fellow Welshman Dylan Thomas. These performances, wrote the eminent theater critic, Walter Kerr, “communicated a kind of lyric fire that our regulation plays have long denied us.” In 1962 Williams was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

BibliographyBrantley, Ben. “A Killer Just Loaded with Charm.” Review of Night Must Fall, by Emlyn Williams. The New York Times, March 9, 1999, p. 1. This favorable review of a 1999 staging of Night Must Fall by the Tony Randall’s National Actors Theater remarks on how well the play works more than sixty years after its premiere. The discussion of the production and the plot sheds light on Williams’s well-known work.Dale-Jones, Don. Emlyn Williams. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1979. This monograph focuses on how Williams’s Welsh background, including his studies in psychology and foreign literatures, determined his interest in the theater and influenced his plays. A thorough study of Williams. Bibliography.Findlater, Richard. Emlyn Williams. New York: Macmillan, 1956. A copiously illustrated biography that covers every facet of Williams’s life and career.Harding, James. Emlyn Williams: A Life. 1993. Reprint. Cardiff: Welsh Academic Press, 2002. This biography of Williams looks at his life and works. Provides a listing of his works, bibliography, and index.Stephens, John Russell. Emlyn Williams: The Making of a Dramatist. Chester Springs, Pa.: DuFour Editions, 2000. Stephens’s biography traces the development of Williams as a dramatist and examines his works. Bibliography and index.Whitford-Roberts, Edward. The Emlyn Williams Country. Foreword by Emlyn Williams. Penarth, Wales: Penarth Times, 1963. This study attempts a further understanding of the Welsh content–characters, settings, atmosphere, and ethical principles–of Williams’s plays. It includes a map of Flintshire and photographs of places that might have fueled the playwright’s imagination and people who might have encouraged his career.
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