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Alice in Wonderland (1903)


Main image of Alice in Wonderland (1903)
35mm, black and white, silent, 800 feet
DirectorsPercy Stow
 Cecil M.Hepworth
Production CompanyHepworth & Co.
From the novel byLewis Carroll
MusicWendy Hiscocks

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

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Alice follows the White Rabbit down a mysterious hole and finds herself in a strange new world.

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At 800ft, 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 made on 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 Mabel Clark, who as well as acting also ran errands and acted 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 would become 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'.

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Video Clips
Complete surviving film (9:35)
Extracts (3:05)
Alice in Label Land (1974)
Alice in Wonderland (1966)
Hepworth, Cecil (1874-1953)
Stow, Percy (1876-1919)