The BBC film (2015) that followed Michael Sheen as he made his way through the valleys in the footsteps of the Chartists to Newport in 1839. The film was given its first public showing since its transmission at Shire Hall, Monmouth as part of CHARTISM magazine’s Autumn Programme.
David Anderson was present on that Wednesday evening (13 October) with some other thirty people. He writes ...
“We watched a film that illustrated the long struggle for the vote here in Wales with a wealth of archival material. But this film is so much more than a history lesson. Michael Sheen challenged us to think more deeply about the whole question of parliamentary representation and how we today relate to the political process.
I learned a lot from this film and think that Sian Rhoderick, one of the two directors and all involved in its production did a great job, making history accessible and politically relevant. Not dry as dust academic stuff, they have given us a living history of the people. It was great that she had come to Monmouth to hear our views about the film.
On his journey, Michael Sheen talks with many people about the vote and why in spite of the sacrifice to gain it, it is all too often not exercised today. He spoke to many people from different backgrounds, including politicians and people who still live in the valley towns. Many said they didn’t see the point of voting because they are just not listened to. One of the most telling discussions was with David Davies, the MP for Monmouth. He recalled a conversation he had had some time ago with an unemployed lad in a valley town. He said "You have to go out and find work. If you can’t find it outside your own front door - go look elsewhere for it. That’s what people have done over the generations. . . it’s not about waiting for the government to deliver it, you have to go and find it yourself." That’s frankly the same indifferent attitude to the plight of the people as the authorities showed in Newport in 1839.
It’s a view that says it’s not the job of government to solve the problems of society. I was struck that the major theme conveyed throughout the film was that communities of people are being ignored and unrepresented. For me, that resonates with our current political situation in the UK, across Europe and even in the presidential election in the USA. My fear is that there is a shift to the political right is underway which seeks to reverse all the hard won gains of the people, from the Chartists onwards.
There is a need for an education project to be undertaken teaching people their own history and the power of people's movements. This film makes an important contribution to that and represents an invaluable resource for stimulating discussion around vital topical issues.
For those who missed this screening the whole film is available on You Tube and well worth taking the time to see – just click on ‘VALLEYS REBELLION’.
Welsh Miners Library Swansea