Welsh film-maker fascinated by Irish history


Kenneth Griffith: Kenneth Griffith, a veteran Welsh actor and documentary filmmaker who died aged 84, was a man whose greatest passion was the history of Ireland, a fascination which was to arouse significant resentment in his native land.

Although well known as an actor on stage, film and television, he lacked the mane, height and profile now considered de rigueur for front-rank Hollywood success, so never achieved the fame and recognition which many considered he deserved.

As a documentary filmmaker, and a world-class one at that, he stirred up considerable controversy which adversely affected his acting career.

On a number of occasions his passionate anti-imperialism brought him into conflict with the British establishment, for he sought to expose the hypocrisy which lurked beneath the view, generally prevalent in modern Britain, that the empire "on which the sun never sets" had been, on the whole, a fairly benign and positive influence in world affairs.

He set about smoking out the brutality and greed which lay at the heart of the imperialist project. Thus the subjects he chose for his films, all of which he directed himself and for which he wrote the scripts, ranged from Napoleon and the American War of Independence to the Untouchables of India, the Boer War and the Irish struggle for freedom.

Each of these he used to excoriate Britain's imperial transgressions to brilliant effect.

Of his three Irish documentaries, two - Hang Up Your brightest Colours (1973), about the life and death of Michael Collins, and Roger Casement, Heart of Darkness (1992) - particularly roused the ire of the establishment, not least on account of their timing.

The first was suppressed by the (now defunct) Independent Broadcasting Authority and was not screened until a BBC Wales retrospective season of his work in 1993. The second was roundly condemned as biased and partisan.

The Collins film opened with the words, "There is no Irish problem, only an English problem", and Griffith did not make his situation any easier by declaring publicly: "The most important thing I have learned, is what a murdering, savage and evil country England is when it touches on Ireland".

His other Irish documentary Curious Journey (1976), in which Griffith interviewed veterans of Easter 1916, was also banned until a showing at the 1980 London Film Festival.

In the early 1990s, Griffith visited Belfast and gave his wholehearted support to Sinn Féin, becoming a close friend of Joe Cahill, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness among others, and establishing himself as a strident enthusiast for a united Ireland, openly proclaiming in the media that the British should leave Northern Ireland forthwith.

Until his death in June of this year he unfailingly wore a green ribbon prominently and proudly.

His last documentary project, one very dear to his heart, the life of Theobald Wolfe Tone, remains uncompleted, dogged both by political controversy and Griffith's increasing ill health in his last years.

Griffith is buried in Penally, the village of his birth, near Tenby in west Wales, in a grave beside that of his parents. It seems entirely appropriate that his coffin is adorned, together with the Red Dragon of Wales, the Irish Tricolour.

Kenneth Griffith, born October 1921; died June 25th, 2006