Long before Disney’s animated version or Tim Burton got his hands on it, Lewis Carroll’s classic book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland received it’s first film adaptation during the age of silents.
The 1903 version of Alice In Wonderland, directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow, stars a young teenage May Clark as Alice and is based on the artwork of Sir John Tenniel, the original illustrator for Carroll’s story.
Shot at Hepworth’s studio in Walton-on-Thames, UK, the director also makes an appearance as the Frog, and his wife can be seen performing costumed as both the White Rabbit and the Queen of Hearts. Best of all in my opinion is the family kitty as the Cheshire Cat looking completely grumpy and nonplussed with the whole thing.
The surrealness of the story beams through the film well over a century later, and it’s clever use of special effects in particular for the scenes where Alice shrinks and grows are fantastic to watch. The White Rabbit is rather terrifying to me though, and I feel like the costume designer for Donnie Darko could well have gotten their inspiration for the design of ‘Frank’ from this 1903 silent.
Originally 12 minutes in length, the BFI was able to restore 8 minutes of the surviving film from ‘severely damaged materials‘. So if you have some time spare today (or whenever you’re reading this), have a watch, it’s a great way to celebrate Lewis Carroll’s Birthday today.