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Category:    Home > Reviews > Fantasy > Literature > TV Movies > Silent Film > British > Alice In Wonderland (1966 British Telefilm/BBC DVD)

Alice In Wonderland (1966 British Telefilm/BBC DVD)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Main Program: B-



How overdone and abused are the endless adaptations and rip-offs of Lewis Carroll’s classic book Alice In Wonderland and its sequels?  Too many and with public domain, the insanity will never stop, but some adaptations are worthy of the book and BBC DVD has just issued three of them.  Two are included as extras, which we’ll get to in a moment, but the 1966 main feature offered here is a telefilm installment of their hit anthology TV show The Wednesday Play.


With music by Ravi Shankar (a friend of The Beatles), this version turns out to be one of the most authentically British and has a stunning cast to match.  Michael Redgrave plays The Caterpillar, Wilfrid Brambell is The White Rabbit, Leo McKern is The Duchess, Peter Cook is The Mad Hatter, Michael Gough is The March Hare, Peter Sellers is The King of Hearts, John Gielgud is The Mock Turtle, Geoffrey Dunn (Andromeda Breakthrough), Finlay Currie (Billy Liar), David Battley (Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory), Charles Lewsen (Smilla’s Sense Of Snow), Peter Eyre (Remains Of The Day), Allison Leggart (Far From The Madding Crowd), Suzanne Vasey (Department S), Alan Bennett, both Eric Idle and Angelo Muscat (The Prisoner) turn up without screen credit and Anne-Marie Mallik is an effective Alice.  Writer/Director Jonathan Miller delivers a richly absurd version that is also very British.


Of course, the story has been reduced in recent years to a shallow drug trip, especially by know-it-alls, most of whom have never read the book.  My only problem is that this one runs only 72 minutes, yet it captures the absurdity and nuance of the book and is one of the most impressive and underrated versions still to this day.  No wonder so much talent joined in.  Anyone serious about the book and story should consider this a must see.


The same goes for the two bonus versions, the first being the silent 1903 version.  It is charming, interesting and short at about 10 minutes.  The only nitrate print around served as the copy used here and it is not in the best of shape, but it has some interesting moments and expects you know the story. Cecil M. Hepworth was a groundbreaking producer/director and this is often considered the first full-length British narrative film.  It is a must-see for so many reasons.


The second is written by the great Dennis Potter, a deconstructionist whose Singing Detective and Pennies From Heaven (British TV mini-series later turned into feature films) deconstructed the Hollywood Musical.  His 1965 Alice was also made for The Wednesday Play and wants to take the tale and make it into a biography of the real-life inspiration for Alice: Alice Liddell.  That may not be clear at first and some may not get that at all, but it is interesting and as long as the main feature.  Deborah Watling is Alice and is joined by George Baker, John Moffat (Murder On The Orient Express, Tom Jones, Britannia Hospital), Tony Anholt (Space: 1999) and Suzanne Vasey (Department S).

The 1.33 X 1 black & white image on the main program version was shot in 35mm film and looks as good as it is going to on DVD, with some softness, but a clean print.  Director of Photography Dick Bush (Phase IV, Tommy, Dracula A.D. 1972) helps to create a great-looking film here that happened to be made for TV.  You would not know that from watching it.  The 1903 version needs some serious work and no one decided to fix the nitrate print or digitally clean it up for this presentation.  No tinting or toning was done.  The 1965 Potter Alice is also black and white, but shot on reel-to-reel black and white PAL analog videotape with maybe some 35mm film inserts.  It also looks good for its age and was lensed by Director of Photography Charles Parnall.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono in all cases is just fine.


Extras include the two extra versions/variation of Alice, Director’s Commentary on the main version, vintage Ravi Shankar footage doing the music for the main version of Alice entitled “Ravi Shankar Plays For Alice”, Behind-The-Scenes Photo Gallery by Terence Spencer the main Alice and (unlisted on the back of the case!) film expert and historian Simon Brown of the BFI does an audio commentary for the 1903 version.  You can turn down the sound (and even add your own) if you want to see it without the commentary.


That all adds up to one of the best releases on Alice In Wonderland to date in any format.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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