BBC Video // 1966 // 71 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // March 8th, 2010
"Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves." -- The Duchess
This moody black and white version of Alice in Wonderland was a televised production done for the series in England called The Wednesday Play. This Wonderland feels more grounded in the real world than most, featuring jabs straight at the middle class of England played out by actors in no make-up or disguise. There's plenty of perspective shifts as Alice grows or shrinks in size, but the trippy elements come from how the people recite the Lewis Carroll text word for word as if it were serious Shakespeare. It has a decidedly spooky and melancholy feel, a lingering sadness about dreaming which includes as many real world touches as surreal. There are no animal heads or playing card costumes, and the whole story plays out as if Alice is running around Oxford bumping into stoned intellectual types and busybodies. Accompanying her journey is the Indian musical stylings of Ravi Shankar who gives Wonderland a sitar to accompany it.
Alice is played by a solemn brunette who never smiles named Anne-Marie Mallik who was chosen from a snapshot she sent in from a newspaper advertisement. She had never been on the screen before, and decided never to pursue it again. She's currently living happily married in the English countryside doing financial advising. She was surrounded by some British legends in the colorful character parts. Michael Redgrave (Goodbye, Mr. Chips) takes on the role of the smoking caterpillar without any insect attributes in sight. Rather he is a dottering man dusting an architechtual model. Leo McKern (The French Lieutenant's Woman) shows up as an ugly duchess, a drag role that he did instead of playing Socrates in another production. Peter Cook portrays the Mad Hatter with Michael Gough (Batman Forever and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland) as the March Hare. Notables such as John Gielgud (Arthur) and Peter Sellers (The Pink Panther) round out the cast as the Mock Turtle and King of Hearts. There's also an uncredited cameo from Monty Python's Flying Circus' Eric Idle.
The DVD sports a nice black and white transfer which looks pretty good considering the age and medium of the original elements. There's a predictably mono sound mix which is fine to hear the dialogue. Extras are plentiful with the standout being a very nice commentary done solo by director Jonathan Miller who is a noted television director for the BBC. He gives some nice stories about why he produced this version, and what it was like to work with this group of actors. Next up is a good gallery of behind the scenes photos in black and white shot by Terrence Spencer -- pretty much what they used for publicity. Included is a 1903 silent version which has commentary to explain it. There is a 1965 biopic about the real life Alice Liddell for historical perspective of the story, which includes several more traditional visions of Wonderland. We also get a short look at Ravi Shankar's musical contribution to the production.
Enthusiasts who desire a faithful English-actor adaptation of Lewis Carroll's text will find this production of the BBC's Alice in Wonderland just the thing. It's rather fun to see some serious thespians recite the poems with Ravi Shankar plucking away behind them on a sitar. The Alice is unlike any you will see, a solemn brunette who never really smiles or laughs. She takes Wonderland deadly seriously, and thinks all of it is cause to meditate on what it means to be a middle class Victorian child. The BBC America DVD has plenty of extras as well as a nice transfer. This one's a good addition to the collection, and certainly has a more fitting tribute to the literary work than many other versions which choose to play up the visuals and downgrade the play on words. The only problem is that this reading feels like a sad nightmare at times, which keeps it firmly in the realm of melancholy madness.
Guilty of being curioser and curioser; a nice counterpoint to the loose adaptations of the oft-filmed story.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 71 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* 1903 Version
* Bonus Film