The first-ever film version of Lewis Carroll's tale has recently been restored by the BFI National Archive from severely damaged materials. Made just 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 was based on Sir John Tenniel's original illustrations. In an act that was to echo more than 100 years later, 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 just 12 minutes (8 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 colours for the first time in over 100 years.
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 toTenniel'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).
PHOTO by Lewis Carroll: Alice Liddell as a beggar-maid (from the story of Cophetua). Supposed tear hole or ink-blot in photo digitally removed. This was first published in Carroll's biography by his nephew: Collingwood, Stuart Dodgson (1898) The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll London: T. Fisher Unwin, pp. p. 80 Retrieved on 22 December 2010.
On 4 July 1862, in a rowing boat travelling on the Isis from Folly Bridge, Oxford to Godstow for a picnic outing, 10-year-old Alice asked Charles Dodgson (who wrote under the pen name Lewis Carroll) to entertain her and her sisters, Edith (age 8) and Lorina (age 13), with a story. As the Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed the boat, Dodgson regaled the girls with fantastic stories of a girl, named Alice, and her adventures after she fell into a rabbit-hole. The story was not unlike those Dodgson had spun for the sisters before, but this time Liddell asked Mr. Dodgson to write it down for her. He promised to do so but did not get around to the task for some months. He eventually presented her with the manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground in November 1864.
In the meantime, Dodgson had decided to rewrite the story as a possible commercial venture. Probably with a view to canvassing his opinion, Dodgson sent the manuscript of Under Ground to a friend, the author George MacDonald, in the spring of 1863. The MacDonald children read the story and loved it, and this response probably persuaded Dodgson to seek a publisher. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, with illustrations by John Tenniel, was published in 1865, under the name Lewis Carroll. A second book about the character Alice, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, followed in 1871. In 1886, a facsimile of Alice's Adventures Under Ground, the original manuscript that Dodgson had given Liddell, was published.
The relationship between Liddell and Dodgson has been the source of much controversy. Many biographers have supposed that Dodgson was romantically or sexually attached to her as a child, though there has never been any direct proof for this and more benign accounts assume merely a platonic fondness. Karoline Leach has claimed this supposition is part of what she terms the "Carroll Myth" and thus wildly distorted.The evidence for any given interpretation is small, and many authors writing on the topic have tended to indulge in a great deal of speculation.
Dodgson met the Liddell family in 1855. He first befriended Harry, the older brother, and later took both Harry and Ina on several boating trips and picnics to the scenic areas around Oxford. Later, when Harry went to school, Alice and her younger sister Edith joined the party. Dodgson entertained the children by telling them fantastic stories to while away the time. He also used them as subjects for his hobby, photography. It has often been stated that Alice was clearly his favorite subject in these years, but there is very little evidence to suggest that this is so. Dodgson's diaries from 18 April 1858 to 8 May 1862 are missing.