On-Screen Embodiment of the Welsh Mam
1Deirdre Beddoe, doyenne of women’s history in Wales, argued during the 1980s that Welsh women have been, and continue to be, culturally invisible.2 Over the years, Wales has, in general, projected a masculine image to the world via its patriarchal interpretation of history, literature, drama and films. However, as a result of her own research Beddoe argued that five images of the Welshwoman have captured the imagination of the nation over the decades: the Welsh woman in traditional national costume, the pious Welshwoman, the sexy Welshwoman, the funny Welshwoman, and, the most enigmatic, romantic and enduring image of them all, the loving Welsh Mam. One could argue today that there is no function for the Welsh Mam in twenty-first-century Welsh life and that she is a part of an era and a way of life that has long since disappeared. For others, she has always been a fictional figure, a romanticized character created for the benefit of some campaign or another, or for the Welsh abroad plagued by hiraeth, of whom Richard Llewellyn and Emlyn Williams are two obvious examples.3 Nevertheless, there is no escaping the fact that the Welsh Mam, an angel in the home, has been a prominent figure in our literature, stage plays and films. The aim of this article is to discuss the means by which the literary portrayal of the Welsh Mam has been translated to the screen during the twentieth century. It examines in particular the contribution of two specific Swansea Valley actors, Siân Phillips and Rachel Thomas, to this on- screen image. However we cannot fully appreciate the image of the Welsh Mam within film without first understanding the roots of this image, grounded in our literary heritage and history.