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Alice in Wonderland (1903), the first-ever film version of Lewis Carroll’s tale, has recently been restored by the BFI National Archive and premiered at a celebration of the history of the classic story at the British Library.
Made just 37 years after the novel’s publication and eight years after the birth of cinema, the first film adaptation was directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow, and was based on Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations. Hepworth cast his wife as the Red Queen, and he himself appears as the Frog Footman. His production secretary May Clark played Alice, and even the family cat and dog got in on the act. The cat played the Cheshire Cat, and the dog would go on to become the first authentic British film star (canine or otherwise) to have his name in the credit of a film when he headlined the pioneering chase film Rescued By Rover in 1905.
Although originally running just 12 minutes, Alice in Wonderland was the longest film produced in England at that time and represented a major investment for the pioneering Hepworth Studios. However, despite its historical importance, it was almost lost for good, and just one incomplete print is known to survive. —BFI National Archive