Emlyn Williams

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Williams, (George) Emlyn 1905–

Williams is a Welsh dramatist, autobiographer, screenwriter, and author of scripts for radio and television. The Corn Is Green, which received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1941 and was made into a popular film, is generally considered his most successful work. Williams, who has acted in and directed his own plays, is also well-respected for his one-man entertainment, Dylan Thomas Growing Up. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 93-96.)

Joseph Wood Krutch

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 360

[The plot of "The Corn Is Green" is] concerned with the relations between a determined spinster who sets up her own school in a remote Welsh mining village and the young genius whom she discovers there….

Certainly the piece is not especially novel or especially searching. In fact, it passes rapidly over the incident concerning the momentary rebellion of the youth against the intellectual forcing process to which he is subjected, and it elaborates at great length the incident involving the child born to the village seductress, despite the fact that the latter is familiar theatrical stuff while the former affords the best opportunity … for an original psychological study. But if the play is neither novel nor searching it is human and sincere, and the fact that it is continuously interesting is probably due less to any single outstanding excellence than to the cumulative effect of various simple virtues in the writing … as well as in the general conception….

[Mr. Williams has translated] his theme into easy theatrical terms without losing the effect of sincerity.

As a matter of fact, "The Corn Is Green" moves pleasantly and easily along because it is about as conventional in method and structure as a play can well be without coming to seem obtrusively according to formula. It begins where one expects it to begin with the arrival of the new would be teacher, and it introduces both the expected comic servant and the expected opposition in the form of the Tory landowner. Presently temptation enters with the serio comic seductress just at the moment when a complication is needed, and, finally, the seductress reappears to announce the inevitable baby exactly at the point where any textbook would tell you a last complication is needed. But if Mr. Williams is obviously a man of the theater who is by no means above using tried and true methods, the fact that he is here dealing with material real and important to himself keeps the play from ever becoming as merely theatrical as it might easily be. (p. 585)

Joseph Wood Krutch, "At Last," in The Nation (copyright 1940 The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 151, No. 23, December 7, 1940, pp. 585-87.∗

Wolcott Gibbs

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So many critical hosannas have gone up about "The Corn Is Green,"… that I am embarrassed to say that it didn't seem to me a flawless drama, or even an especially important one. In this almost solitary dissenting opinion, the play … is earnest, worthy,… and more than a little old-fashioned…. [Any] performance in which the characters behave like endurable human beings is a relief and a blessing, but I can't believe that it is automatically a work of genius….

I have the greatest respect for Mr. Williams' sincerity, not to mention his mastery of the soft and lovely Welsh dialect, but I wasn't really altogether happy at his play. It always seemed much too easy, to employ a phrase I learned at my grandmother's knee, to guess which way the cat was going to jump.

Wolcott Gibbs, "Minority Report," in The New Yorker (© 1940 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 16, No. 43, December 7, 1940, p. 47.

Stark Young

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"The Corn Is Green" is at least partially reminiscent of the Manchester School of...

(This entire section contains 302 words.)

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drama, with overtones now and then of the Irish Theatre. There are passages of genuine and confessed poetry, Celtic with that note of passing wings, that Mr. Williams brings with him doubtless out of Wales. A portion of this sort of drama is realistic, working with surface facts, whether they be crude, or homely and everyday. But the whole sum is not realism at all, it is pushed up into the theatric, full of limelighted figures and traits, amusing combinations, eccentricities and situations, with that constant leaning toward caricature so familiar to the British stage and so happily within the special scope of British acting. Combined with these in Mr. Williams' play is a social theme, a text. It has a core of problem, as it were, in the conditions among the miners of this Welsh village, the owners, overlords, the wretched slavery, and the need for enlightenment, et cetera, among the miners.

Such a mixture of elements and qualities, so characteristic of modern British plays of serious intentions, would prevent "The Corn Is Green" from ranking as serious drama except as of a middle plane of seriousness. That should be obvious. This level of the serious, however, has its place and its definite appeal, sometimes as here on a fine basis. Furthermore the author has added to the whole play something deeply felt, and perhaps personal, that gives it more lift, refinement and intensity. The play itself is often slow and seems to drag on our full attention. Its best moments, the Oxford examination scene, for example, are original and are stirringly dramatic.

Stark Young, "Day Must Come," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1940 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 103, No. 24, December 9, 1940, p. 789.

David Burnham

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Emlyn Williams wrote "The Corn Is Green" out of his boyhood experience. He wrote "Night Must Fall" out of his inventive imagination, touched off possibly by a newspaper clipping. "Yesterday's Magic" he wrote chiefly out of his memory of other men's plays. His personal contribution amounts to little more than Welsh names for the principal characters and a Welsh song in the opening act.

It's the play about the celebrated actor who sold out to John Barleycorn. In a squalid room in a cheap boarding house overlooking Covent Garden, his crippled but chipper daughter nurses his hangovers. His lovely young bride, it goes without saying, died at her daughter's birth, and her name has never since crossed the widower's lips. A knock at the door: the new tenant wants to borrow a hammer. A poor but ambitious young artist, is he? Wrong; a poor but ambitious young musician. Before you could say "cliché," with the help of a crusty old admirer of yesterday's magic the stranger finds the old maestro a job; soon he is rehearsing the title rôle in a C. B. Cochran production of "King Lear." But on the afternoon of opening night, a too well-meaning friend lets drop that his daughter plans to marry the young musician on the morrow and sail for America. Need I go on?

Familiarity doesn't necessarily vitiate a play. Life's patterns are recurrent; the greatest plays have a necessary element of banality. But the banality of "Yesterday's Magic" is not the banality of life but of theatrical tradition. Excepting a few inventive passages in the first scene, everything in it is second-hand, superficial and grossly sentimental from the daughter's club foot to the final suicide. The "original" characters … are the most conventional of all.

It's not so much a poor play as a superfluous one. The response it chiefly rouses is wonderment: wonderment that in this year—this century—Emlyn Williams should have devoted his time and talent to writing it….

David Burnham, "The Stage & Screen: 'Yesterday's Magic'," in Commonweal (copyright © 1942 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. XXXVI, No. 2, May 1, 1942, p. 38.

Joseph Wood Krutch

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"Morning Star" is by the Anglo-Welsh actor Emlyn Williams, who was first introduced to New York as the author of the excellent theatrical thriller called "Night Must Fall" and who later revealed his more earnest side in "The Corn Is Green." It is the writer of the second, not the writer of the first, who is recognizable in the new play, but "Morning Star" is, nevertheless, not nearly so good as "The Corn Is Green." Probably the explanation is simple enough. In "The Corn Is Green" Mr. Williams was concerning himself with a group and a milieu which he knew more intimately than most people know them, and he had, accordingly, something of his own to say. In "Morning Star" he is concerned in a very general way with England's reaction to the war, about which he can neither say anything particularly original nor feel anything more poignant than most of us have already felt. It is all very well to say that a great writer ought to deal with great themes important to many men. But the greater the theme and the more generally people have felt a concern with it the more necessary it is that one who handles it should really be a great writer, and the more obvious it becomes that the mere determination to deal with great themes does not make him one…. The main story, which, by the way, is not any too well integrated with the rest of the action, has to do with the rather obscure emotional reactions of a brilliant research physician who first resents the war's interference with his work, then tries to find a use for that work in the war, and finally becomes reconciled to the necessity of submerging himself in the general effort. Characters who are interesting chiefly because they are supposed to have just written a great book or made a stupendous scientific discovery are for some reason or other seldom very easy to believe in on the stage, and Mr. Williams' researcher is no exception. More important is the author's purely negative failure to rise either intellectually or emotionally to the occasion. He is certainly not insincere. Neither is his play, as war plays of twenty years ago sometimes were, cheap or facile. It is merely unoriginal and inadequate. (p. 278)

Joseph Wood Krutch, "Business—but Not as Usual," in The Nation (copyright 1942 The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 155, No. 13, September 26, 1942, pp. 278-79.∗

David Burnham

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Emlyn Williams experienced directly the messy, senseless horror of the London blitz. And the success of "The Morning Star" in that city is tribute that he has managed to convey the true color of those months of horror and anonymous courage. Unfortunately, however, he has chosen to communicate as well a hackneyed, theatrical plot which reduces the blitz from a tragic and heroic human experience into sound effects and local color. (p. 565)

As well as playwright, Emlyn Williams is a talented and industrious stage and movie actor. Perhaps this helps explain the recent trend of his playwriting. First "Yesterday's Magic" and now "The Morning Star" suggest that their author is spending too much of his time in greasepaint. (p. 566)

David Burnham, "The Stage & Screen: 'The Morning Star'," in Commonweal (copyright © 1942 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. XXXVI, No. 24, October 2, 1942, pp. 565-66.

Ashley Dukes

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In The Druid's Rest by Emlyn Williams, there is a lively dramatic idea, which perhaps could only be worked out in a Celtic setting and realized by a Welsh cast. The imagination of a youth, always moving faster than fact, brings about such an acceleration of gear in the minds of a small household in an inn-parlor that the wildest nonsense appears to be fact. Circumstantial evidence builds up into a melodrama and resolves into a comedy, perhaps commonplace in the ease with which it makes its audience laugh but otherwise well balanced and conceived. This is not a Playboy as it might have been on another imaginative plane, but it gains authenticity from the figure of the youth … who breathes life as surely as the figure of a tramp breathes the property-room. (p. 342)

Ashley Dukes, "A New Hamlet: The London Scene," in Theatre Arts (© 1944 by Theatre Publications, Inc.), Vol. XXVIII, No. 6, June, 1944, pp. 338-43.∗

Naomi Bliven

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[In "George: An Early Autobiography,"] Emlyn Williams, the actor and playwright … tells us how he made the long march from a poverty-stricken Welsh village … to the London stage, where he got his first part at the age of twenty-one. He did it one step at a time, one scholarship after another, the last and most splendid to Oxford, where it was assumed that he would improve his great opportunity by preparing for a government job. The book requires such adjectives as charming and likable. His is a rare, happy success story—the demands of a young nobody's personality were met against long, long odds. Unlike most writers of success stories, Williams isn't looking back in complacency. His qualities are, by good fortune, literary virtues—a memory for detail, a broad but not uncritical affection for past places, things, and people, and a sense of proportion that restores them all as they were, with just the fillip of humor that comes with reflection. (p. 210)

Naomi Bliven, "The Fabulous Invalid," in The New Yorker (© 1962 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XXXVIII, No. 36, October 27, 1962, pp. 206, 209-10, 212-14.∗

L. E. Sissman

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"Emlyn: An Early Autobiography"] takes up where its predecessor, "George," left off…. The book is an account of its author's gradual rise in the theatre and in the movies, both as an actor and as a writer…. Williams tells us everything he found out about acting, playwriting, directing, sets, auditoriums, and audiences, and if this were all, the book would still be invaluable. But there is another—and more important—lesson. For Williams also chronicles his emotional life—his loneliness, his torment, and his obsession with a young man, which almost destroyed what became a lasting love marriage. The youth turned out to be something new and horrible in Williams' experience—a complacently amoral criminal to whom friendship, loyalty, gratitude were incomprehensible. The reality of plausible, attractive, conscienceless crime, which had caused Williams so much pain, provided the vision for his first hit play, "Night Must Fall," on whose opening night this volume closes.

L. E. Sissman, "Briefly Noted: 'Emlyn: An Early Autobiography'," in The New Yorker (© 1974 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. L, No. 18, June 24, 1974, p. 104.