ALICE IN WONDERLAND

Director:  Jonathan Miller

Starring:  Anne-Marie Mallik, Peter Cook, John Gielgud, Peter Sellers

Anne-Marie Mallik as AliceJonathan Miller's 1966 BBC television adaptation of Alice in Wonderland is probably the least typical film version of Carroll's tale, but at the same time it more faithfully replicates the tone of the source material than any other. Most adaptations play up the whimsical and fantastical elements of the story, perhaps forgetting that it is, after all, "a curious dream". Miller's masterly vision takes Carroll's words from the page largely unmodified, transplanting them to an ethereal land populated by "mad people". It's not an adaptation that's terribly faithful to Carroll's piecemeal narrative, but it has a wonderful languid pacing of its own. Miller's decision to do away with actors wearing oversize animal masks or elaborate prosthetics also sets it apart from most other adaptations, and allows the performances of his wonderful ensemble cast to shine through. Masks and prosthetics are usually employed to imitate John Tenniel's beautiful woodcut illustrations. It's telling that Miller uses Carroll's own original illustrations to decorate his end credits.

The BFI's DVD version is simply outstanding. The film was beautifully shot (by cinematographer Dick Bush, who also shot Miller's adaptation of M.R.James's Whistle And I'll Come To You). Sourced from the original 35mm black and white film elements, the picture quality is stunning, and comparable to any contemporary feature film. There are some scenes that don't have true black levels, and a few spits of dirt and other film flaws here and there, but otherwise it's practically perfect, revealing plenty of detail which simply hasn't been available before (the last time the play was shown on television was in 1986). There are no signs of excessive compression. The film is presented in its original 4:3 ratio. The average bitrate is 6.21Mb/s. The audio is perfectly serviceable.

The Mock Turtle (John Gielgud), the Gryphon (Malcolm Muggeridge) and Alice (Anne-Marie Mallik) join the dance . The Mad Hatter (Peter Cook), the Dormouse (Wilfred Brambell), the March Hare (Michael Gough) and Alice (Anne-Marie Mallik).

Miller's film is accompanied by a commentary track that's well worth listening to. It covers many aspects of the production, from the initial idea, right through to the decision to schedule it in an post-watershed time-slot (which led to the mistaken belief among the press that it would be vaguely pornographic!) His talk is rarely scene-specific, but he does explain many of his artistic choices, elaborates on how he tackled the adaptation, and discusses some of the changes he would have made, with the benefit of nearly forty years of hindsight.

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party, from Cecil Hepworth's 1903 version of "Alice in Wonderland".The disc also contains a complete, eight-minute version of Alice In Wonderland made by British cinema pioneer Cecil M. Hepworth in 1903. It's believed to be the earliest cinema adaptation of Carroll's work. It's accompanied by a breathless commentary track by BFI film expert Simon Brown. It seems like little more than a slightly elaborate home movie, but it's a wonderful companion piece to Miller's version. The film is in terrible shape (it was made on nitrate stock, which has deteriorated), but it's quite watchable. The disc also contains a five-page text biography for Miller, a short animated gallery of production photo's (which nevertheless manages to spell actress Anne-Marie Mallik's name incorrectly. The disc also has DVD-ROM content, but since it involves installing the invasive PCFriendly software, I can't tell you any more about it. The sleeve carries a sleeve essay by Philip Kemp, comparing Miller's version to other film adaptations. Someone should remind the BFI that this is their Archive Television imprint, because it fails to mention any of the other TV adaptations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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