Unveiled: Alice in Wonderland (1903) - A Timeless Treasure Restored
“Alice in Wonderland” is a silent film released in 1903, directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow. It is an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s famous novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” The film is notable for being the first adaptation of the book, and it is considered a landmark in the history of cinema.
The film was made using pioneering special effects techniques for its time, including the use of multiple exposures, split-screen effects, and reverse motion. The result is a visually stunning and inventive film that captures the whimsy and wonder of Carroll’s original story.
Despite being a silent film, “Alice in Wonderland” features an engaging and lively score that helps to enhance the film’s dreamlike quality. The film’s success paved the way for future adaptations of the novel, including Disney’s classic animated version in 1951.
Today, “Alice in Wonderland” remains an important work in the history of cinema and a testament to the creativity and innovation of its filmmakers. The film is a must-see for fans of Carroll’s original story and for those interested in the early days of cinema and its evolution into the art form we know today.
Alice follows a large white rabbit down a rabbit hole to “the hall of many doors” and discovers a tiny door that she is unable to fit through. She discovers a bottle labeled “Drink me” and drinks from it, shrinking in size but not enough to pass through the door. Alice then eats a cake labeled “Eat me,” causing her to grow larger. Then Alice finds a fan that allows her to shrink to the correct size and enter the Beautiful Garden, where she attempts to play with a dog. She enters the White Rabbit’s small house, but abruptly grows to her normal size. To escape, she uses the fan to shrink again.
Alice then enters a kitchen where she encounters a cook and a woman holding a baby. Alice convinces the woman to give her the child and takes the infant outside after the cook starts throwing objects. However, the baby suddenly transforms into a pig and slips out of Alice’s grip. Alice discovers that the woman is actually a duchess. The Duchess’s Cheshire Cat emerges and disappears a few times, directing Alice to the Mad Hatter’s Mad Tea Party. After some time, Alice leaves.
The Queen invites Alice to participate in the royal procession, a march of playing cards and others led by the White Rabbit. When Alice unknowingly offends the Queen, she summons the executioner. Alice strikes the executioner’s ears, then flees when all the playing cards pursue her. Alice wakes up and realizes that it was all a dream.
In addition to its pioneering use of special effects, “Alice in Wonderland” is also notable for its casting choices. The film features a cast of child actors, including Mabel (May) Clark as Alice, who was only seventeen years old at the time of filming. This decision was made to help lend the film an authentic sense of childlike wonder and innocence.
The film’s production was not without its challenges, however. According to reports from the time, filming took place in an open field near Hepworth’s studio, and the crew had to contend with strong winds, rain, and even snow during the shoot. Despite these difficulties, the filmmakers were able to complete the film and release it to widespread acclaim.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film is Alice’s encounter with the Cheshire Cat. In this sequence, the cat gradually fades in and out of view, leaving only its grinning face behind. This effect was achieved through the use of multiple exposures and is a testament to the ingenuity of the film’s special effects team.
Overall, “Alice in Wonderland” is a charming and whimsical film that captures the spirit of Lewis Carroll’s beloved novel. Its pioneering use of special effects and child actors helped to push the boundaries of what was possible in early cinema and paved the way for future innovations in filmmaking. The film remains a classic of the silent era and a testament to the enduring power of storytelling on the big screen.
Directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow
Written by Cecil M. Hepworth
Based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
Produced by Cecil M. Hepworth, Herman Casler (exec. producer), Elias Koopman (exec. producer), and Harry Marvin (exec. producer)
Restored and upscaled by British Film Institute (BFI) & moonflix, LLC
May Clark as Alice
Cecil M. Hepworth as Frog
Geoffrey Faithfull as Playing Card
Stanley Faithfull as Playing Card
Mrs. Margaret Hepworth as White Rabbit / Queen of Hearts
Norman Whitten as Mad Hatter / Fish
Original release date:
October 17, 1903