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
Dr. Crippen’s Diary: An Invention, 1987
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)
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
Pepper and Sand, 1947
Emlyn, 1974 (adaptation of his autobiography)
George: An Early Autobiography, 1961
Beyond Belief: A Chronicle of Murder and Its Detection, 1967
Emlyn: An Early Autobiography, 1927-1935, 1973
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.
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.