There’s something ineffably haunting about the idea of a sunken town: the houses filled with swaying weeds, the church bell tolling beneath the waves. It’s an emotional response played to the absolute hilt by this wonderful, Ealing-esque 1949 drama, written, directed by and starring regular Hitchcock alumnus Emlyn Williams. He plays a Welsh exile who returns to the valleys intent on revenge: he’s persuaded the local Lord to flood the town of Dolwyn, uprooting the residents who treated him so cruelly as a boy.
The stage is set for a heated melodrama playing on ideas of class and culture, as the townsfolk are faced with a choice: take the money and run, or stick with your roots. The film is best known for a hammy but loveable performance from a frighteningly young Richard Burton, but it’s Edith Evans as his mother, the town matriarch, who really shines: it’s difficult to remember an actor who captures the complexities and subtleties of the British class struggle better than Evans does here. The ending demands a near-insurmountable logical leap for the viewer, but that’s a relatively minor blemish on this charming, insightful film.