Solomon and Gaenor

UK 1998

Reviewed by Simon Louvish


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

In a small village in the Welsh valleys, around 1911, a young Jewish peddler (or 'pacman') named Solomon meets Gaenor, the eldest daughter of a local family of mineworkers. There is an instant attraction between them. Gaenor doesn't realise Solomon is Jewish and calling himself Sam he pretends to be a Christian from across the valley. Solomon's parents Isaac and Rezl run a pawnshop-drapery. Smitten by Gaenor, Solomon makes her a dress, and soon they become lovers.

Gaenor asks to meet Solomon's parents, but he cannot now reveal his Jewish faith. The village is embroiled in an industrial dispute with the mine's owners, and both Gaenor's father and her brother Crad are involved in the miners' response. Gaenor's world is shattered when her new fiancé Noah denounces her in the chapel as a fornicator, pregnant by a stranger. She is put under the care of her family, and will be taken to her distant aunt to give birth after which she'll be forced to give up her baby. Gaenor tracks down her lover's home and, discovering his Jewishness, tries to speak to his parents, but they cannot accept that the child she is carrying is their grandchild.

As industrial unrest and poverty increase in the valley the hotheads march on Jewish shops, accusing the Jews of enriching themselves at their expense. Isaac and Rezl's shop is razed, and they have to seek shelter elsewhere. Isaac warns Solomon, in the midst of the unrest, that if he persists in seeing the gentile girl he will be disowned. Solomon nevertheless tries to see Gaenor, and is beaten severely by Crad. Refusing to give up on Gaenor, Solomon finds out her whereabouts and treks, bleeding, through snow and storm, across the valley, to the remote farmhouse where she is confined. Reunited, they perform their own Jewish wedding together but he dies in her arms. That same night Gaenor gives birth to her child. Gaenor is taken to a chapel where she has to give up her baby. Idris and Crad transport Solomon's coffin back to the valleys.


Set before World War I, in a period of raw industrial conflict, Paul Morrison's film focuses on two communities at the bottom of Britain's class hierarchies, whose proximity in harsh economic circumstances drives them to hostility. The Jewish migrants who came to England, Scotland and Wales at the turn of the twentieth century were fleeing hardship and persecution in Europe, much as today's developing-world migrants seek asylum in what they hope will be a tolerant place. But for a younger generation, represented here by Solomon and Gaenor, the rigid faiths of both communities make building an individual bridge all but impossible.

Solomon and Gaenor is impeccable in its liberal intentions - respectably produced, nicely photographed, reasonably well acted in most cases - and appeared to induce a proper modicum of cathartic tears at the screening I attended. It is courageous in taking on a less than entertaining prospect: the self-destructive dourness both of the chapel-ridden Welsh and the law-ridden Orthodox Jewish families whose very identity is formed by their respective separation from the wider world. In one poignant scene Solomon and Gaenor's Welsh family exchange well-memorised Biblical quotations. Both communities derive their faith from the same source, but this is not enough to bring them together.

However, the movie is unable to escape from the conventions of its own filmic heritage. Despite the protestations of the director and producers that they didn't wish to make a typical BBC-type period piece, this is exactly what the film most resembles. Like many of the current crop of Lottery-funded and television-backed movies, Solomon and Gaenor appears (by choice or necessity) to have followed the prevailing formulas beloved of media commissioners, with predictably bland results. There is little evidence of directorial flair which would bring the plodding script to life. What the film lacks most is a darker subtext below the surface of the conventional craft.

Ioan Gruffudd makes an attractive lead, but neither script nor direction appears to have considered a different slant on his doomed amour. In the context of the period, as a Jew who seduces a gentile girl without revealing his true identity, he has in fact set her up for ruination in her own prejudiced society. But the film only sees his tragic destiny, not his internal flaws. (Or does he die for his sins? Perhaps there is more of the Orthodox spirit here after all.)

Much better and more ambivalent is Mark Lewis Jones as Gaenor's brother Crad, a brooding hulk of a man visibly torn up by his repressed rage as a worker subject to the whims of distant bosses, searching for scapegoats among the closest strangers. Nia Roberts as Gaenor gives a moving performance within the limits of the stereotyped victim supplied to her by the script, and David Horovitch as Solomon's father achieves a melancholy dignity. But Maureen Lipman should be banned from playing Jewish mothers until at least 2010.


Sheryl Crown
Paul Morrison
Director of Photography
Nina Kellgren
Kant Pan
Production Designer
Hayden Pearce
Ilona Sekacz
©S4C and APT Film and Television Limited
Production Companies
S4C and Film Four with The Arts Council of England and The Arts Council of Wales present an APT Film and Television production in association with September Films
For S4C and Film Four
Supported by the National Lottery through The Arts Councils of England and Wales
Executive Producers
David Green
Andy Porter
Line Producer
Maurice Hunter
For September Films
Fiona Alderson
Elaine Day
Production Co-ordinator
Menna Jones
Location Manager
Bryan Moses
Post-production Supervisor
Chris Nixon
Welsh Language Associate Director
Bethan Eames
Assistant Directors
Howard Arundel
Rhian Williams
Nerys Phillips
Jonathan Hunter
2nd Unit:
Jon Williams
Llinos Wyn Jones
Casting Director
Joan McCann
Script Editors
Claire Alan
Welsh Language:
Gruffudd Jones
2nd Unit Cameramen
Peter Thornton
Alan Stewart
2nd Unit Steadicam Cameraman
Paul Edwards
Special Effects
Richard Reeve
Art Director
Frazer Pearce
Costume Designer
Maxine Brown
Wardrobe Mistress
Vicki Page
Make-up Designer
Gill Rees
Prosthetic Make-up Effects
Michael Mustafi
Music Recording
Gerry O'Riordan
Sound Recordist
Richard Dyer
Dubbing Mixer
Adrian Rhodes
Supervising Sound Editor
Danny Longhurst
Sound Editors
Pat Boxshall
Jennie Evans
Yiddish Consultant
Barry Davis
Fight Arranger
Andy Bradford
Ioan Gruffudd
Nia Roberts
Sue Jones Davies
William Thomas
Mark Lewis Jones
Maureen Lipman
David Horovitch
Bethan Ellis Owen
Adam Jenkins
Cyril Shaps
Daniel Kaye
Elliot Cantor
Steffan Rhodri
Noah Jones
Emyr Wyn
Reverend Roberts
Julian Lewis Jones
Arwyn Davies
Dai Morgan
Rhys Evans
Helen Griffin
Aunt Myfanwy
Gwyn Vaughan Jones
Trefor Lloyd
Alan Schwartz
Uncle Mennasseh
Anne Sessions
Aunt Sadie
Olivia Simova
Barry Davis
Mannie Silvergilt
Rabbi Daniel Levy
Rabbi Wolfe
Derek Smith
Jewish man
Jane Manuel
Jewish woman
Daniel Pruchnie
Jewish child
Ri Richards
glass woman
Gill Griffiths
woman 1
Manon Eames
Welsh woman at door
Dafydd Wyn Roberts
old tramp
Ceri Evans
Huw Emlyn
Alun, barman
Winston Evans
Siôn Hopkins
Sleepy John
Film Four Distributors
9,337 feet
103 minutes 45 seconds
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011