The BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE (BFI) and comedian PAUL MERTON have unveiled 10 of the most watched films to celebrate 25 years of National Lottery funding. Unbelievably, we’d like to bet you’ve never heard of any of these gems of Wales. We are though, about to put that right.

However, some of the most watched films in Wales are not mainstream blockbusters, they don’t feature BAFTA winning actors nor do they feature rousing music. They are a vast range of documentaries, home movies, news footage, forgotten TV programmes and government films from throughout the last century that feature in the National Lottery funded BFI project – Britain On Film.

  • The BFI’s Britain on Film, an online archive of over 10,000 films, has amassed 75 million views since its launch in 2015 and features films from all over the UK.
  • A top 10 list of the most watched films from Wales feature Swansea, Victoria – Pontarddulais Railway, 1964 (June);  Snow Llanelli 1982; and Tryweryn, the Story of a Valley (1965). 
  • The National Lottery has invested over £12.7 million into over 670 film-related projects in Wales over the past 25 years, from independent films to community film clubs.

Comedian and amateur film historian, Paul Merton told us…….

“Britain on Film is an ambitious project that has made the rich unseen film history of the UK accessible to the whole nation, with thousands of titles from 120 years’ worth of films drawn from the BFI National Archive and regional and national archive partners from across the UK and Northern Ireland from Victorian times to the 1990s.” 

“Whilst you or I may never have heard of them before and they will never trouble the weekly box office lists, the films have captured the imagination of the British public and amassed an incredible 75 million online views. They are incredible and are a wonderful way to get lost in our history and heritage for an hour, or even a day. I love it, and all thanks to those pink tickets at newsagents.”

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In June this year, a project to create a National Broadcast Archive in Wales was given the go ahead thanks to a grant of nearly £5 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The funding will help ensure around 240,000 hours of radio and television footage from Wales, charting almost 100 years of broadcasting and including many iconic moments from 20th-century Welsh history and culture, will be made accessible and kept safe for future generations. Wales’ archive, the first of its kind in the UK, is based at four digital hubs in Aberystwyth, Wrexham, Carmarthen and Cardiff.


Iola Baines, Moving Image Curator, Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales, told us……

“We’ve been thrilled to be able to share so many film treasures from the Screen and Sound Archive’s collection with viewers across the UK – almost 800 unique films, telling unknown stories, revealing familiar (or hidden) landscapes, and shining a light on nuggets of local or social history that had been nestling in the vaults but are now digitally preserved and available to all to enjoy and learn from.”

“The ‘top ten’ films from Wales on the BFI Player tell such engaging stories from the length and breadth of Wales –  some very poignant, such as ‘Tryweryn, the Story of a Valley’ (1965), about the drowning of the village of Capel Celyn near Bala; some full of nostalgia, such as ‘Rails To Talsarn’ (1964) or Swansea, Victoria – Pontardulais Railway, 1964 (June), and others simply celebrating the joy of community gatherings.”

BRITAIN ON FILM is an ambitious project- one of the largest and most complex archival projects ever undertaken by the BFI and one of the most successful with over 75 million online views to date. It has made over 10,000 titles from 120 years’ worth of films available to the British public for free, drawn from the BFI National Archive and regional and national archive partners from across the UK.

Wales Map

So, in true chart rundown fashion, let’s give you the most watched local film in Wales. We’ll start at the top with number one, which is Swansea, Victoria – Pontardulais Railway, 1964 (Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales) – a record of one of the last train ride from Swansea’s Victoria Station to Pontarddulais. Just click on the film name to enjoy each of them

The Top 10 most watched films in Wales through Britain on Film:

  1. Swansea, Victoria – Pontardulais Railway, 1964 (June), Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales

A record of one of the last train rides – on the “old puff puff” – from Swansea’s Victoria Station to Pontardulais. The line was closed soon afterwards, part of the reshaping of the railway system

  1. Snow Llanelli 1982, Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales

A home movie which shows Llanelli as a winter wonderland as snow covers its streets, and icicles hang from the roofs of buildings  

  1. Tryweryn, the Story of a Valley (1965), Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales

A film about the controversial drowning of the village of Capel Celyn near Bala to provide water for Liverpool

  1. Camwell Personal Film No. 62: Welshpool Raven Square Railway (1963) BFI

We see one of the original W&L locomotives with a train of volunteers as they cross the level crossing and take a winding trip into the town section

  1. Come with Me to Cardiff (1954) BFI

Broadcaster Richard Dimbleby tours Cardiff a year before it became Wales’ capital city

  1. Connah’s Quay Carnival and Fete 1965, Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales

The Connah’s Quay Old People’s Association demonstrates that it’s not just the young that are imbued with carnival spirit

  1. To the Four Corners (1957), BFI reproduced with kind permission of Unilever

Rare colour footage of multiracial Cardiff is the obvious highlight of this travelogue

  1. Rails To Talsarn (1964) Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales

Horse-drawn railway: ‘Prince’ and ‘Corwen’ pull slate wagons from Pen-yr-Orsedd quarry to Tal-y-sarn station, guided by Mr Oswald Jones, guard/driver

  1. Aberystwyth Promenade (1969) Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales

The King’s Hall, a landmark building in Aberystwyth from its official opening in 1934 to its demolition in 1989, is seen here (exterior only) in its heyday, when it provided amusements and dodgems downstairs and a concert/dance hall upstairs where The Rolling Stones, Paul Tortelier, Led Zeppelin, the Halle Orchestra and Slade all came to play

10.    Llanidloes 1965, Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales

Take a trip to Llanidloes and view this market town as it was in 1965. See the cars of the period, the railway station, the timbered buildings and a petrol filling station

And the incredible works continues today………..

  • In Wales, the National Lottery has invested £12.7 million into over 670 film-related projects over the past 25 years, including award -winning films such as I Am Not a Witch and the production of films including Pride, Eternal Beauty, Gwen, Submarine, Journey’s End, The Lighthouse Queerama and Dark Horse.
  • £8.4 million of National Lottery funding for Ffilm Cymru Wales, the development agency for Welsh film, has led to 73 Welsh films being produced; 226 filmmakers supported; 2,000 job and trainee placements created in the industry; and an £81.4 million investment in productions.
  • National Lottery funding in Wales has also gone into film production but also into communities- Investing into film clubs in schools across the region, community cinema initiatives, BFI Film Academy courses for 16-19-year olds, skills and talent development programmes and film archive preservation.
  • Throughout the UK, the National Lottery has invested over £933 million into almost 23,000 film-related projects over the past 25 years – from iconic films, education and skills programmes, to community film clubs and preserving the UK’s film heritage.
  • National Lottery-supported films have won an incredible 400 awards including 15 Oscars®, 100 BAFTAs and 29 Cannes awards, from more than 1,462 nominations.
  • National Lottery players have supported the production of more than 500 UK films over the past 25 years, enjoyed by audiences at home and abroad, attracting more than 100 million cinema admissions in the UK. 

BFI has launched the next phase of Britain on Film, with ‘BFI Contribute’, a crowdsourcing platform to harness all the wonderful stories and local expertise that have come out of the public’s desire to share their knowledge. The BFI is calling upon the public to watch and contribute any information they may have about the films on a local level. The BFI Britain on Film Mapping Mission HERE is an online community that everyone can visit, empowering the people of Britain to take an active part in the BFI’s research, sharing local expertise with the rest of the nation to unlock answers and make real discoveries to enrich our understanding about, our shared film history. 

Paul Merton fronts a video of the Top 10 most watched films you have never heard of on BFI’s Britain On Film nationally. You can see that below…….

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