The Cheshire Cat by Sir John Tenniel

Alice 1 & 2

The First Alice
Hepworth & Co., 1903

The first-ever film version of Lewis Carroll's tale has been restored by the BFI National Archive from severely damaged materials. Made 37 years after Lewis Carroll wrote his novel and eight years after the birth of cinema, the adaptation was directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow, and based on Sir John Tenniel's original illustrations. May Clark played Alice; Hepworth cast his wife as the Red Queen, and he himself appears as the Frog Footman. Even the Cheshire cat is played by a family pet.

With a running time of only 12 minutes (eight of which survive), Alice in Wonderland was the longest film produced in England at that time. Film archivists have been able to restore the film's original colors for the first time in over 100 years.




Directors: Percy Stow, Cecil M Hepworth
Production Company: Hepworth & Co.
From the novel by Lewis Carroll
Music: Wendy Hiscocks, song: “Jill In the Box”
35mm, black and white, silent, 800 feet

Cast: May Clark (Alice), Cecil M. Hepworth (Frog), Mrs. Hepworth (White Rabbit/Queen), Stanley Faithfull, Geoffrey Faithfull (Cards), Blair (Dog)

At 800 feet, Alice In Wonderland was the longest film yet produced in Britain, running about 12 minutes. Its unusual length meant that it was not suitable for all film showings, where a variety of short subjects was considered ideal, so all the scenes were sold individually. A showman need only buy and show a single sequence, such as the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, not the whole film, which was less a self-contained story than an illustration of key moments from the book.

In 1903, there were two directors working at the Hepworth studio in Walton-On-Thames, Cecil Hepworth himself and Percy Stow. Hepworth was responsible for the studio’s non-fiction films, while Stow made all the fiction films. This was such a large production that the two men worked together.

The film required an unusual amount of planning for its day. Hepworth was insistent that the images stay faithful to the drawings of Sir John Tenniel, the original illustrator of Lewis Carroll’s story, and so before filming could begin a large number of costumes had to be made, including several dozen playing card costumes, and flats painted to Tenniel’s original designs. The film was produced on a the small wooden stage in the garden of the villa housing Hepworth’s company, with exteriors shot in the lavish gardens of Mount Felix, a local estate which until recently had been owned by the son of Thomas Cook, the travel agent.

Alice was played by May Clark, who as well as acting also ran errands and served as a kind of studio secretary. There were no professional actors at the studio, so all of the staff pitched in and played parts. Hepworth played the frog footman and his wife played the White Rabbit and the Queen. The film also featured an early appearance by the family dog, Blair, who became famous as the star of Rescued by Rover (1905).—Simon Brown

This film is included on the BFI DVD of Jonathan Miller’s Alice in Wonderland.

(from the BFI website, ScreenOnline, “The definitive guide to Britain’s film and TV history”



The Second Alice, 1910


porterThe second film version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland was produced by the Edison Manufacturing Company and directed by Edwin Stanton Porter, better known in film history for his 1903 sensation, The Great Train Robbery, which featured one of cinema’s most iconic shots, of an outlaw firing directly at the camera, and is generally credited with establishing film as commercial entertainment in this country. Among his technical and aesthetic breakthroughs was the use of dissolves and cross-cut editing as storytelling devices, and the development of continuity editing that prefigured D.W. Griffith’s later advances in these techniques. Porter’s Alice in Wonderland is a 10-minute black and white silent film. It appears to be lost, as no copies have yet surfaced, on YouTube or elsewhere. According to Wikipedia, Porter’s Alice received a favorable review in Variety, where it was likened to “the ‘foreign’ film fantasies then flooding America.” The 1910 production starred Gladys Hulette as Alice (shown in photo above, from the film). Other cast member names are unknown.

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