Oh, gorgeous day! Callooh! Clay!
This Saturday (January 14), we commemorate the death of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll.
It has been 125 years since the English writer, poet and mathematician, best known for his works ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (1865) and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ (1871).
Filled with riddles, fascinating allegories and bizarre touchpoints, these two stories have permeated nearly every aspect of popular culture and inspired countless movies, TV shows, songs, video games, and various works of art.
We all know the Disney version (probably the most timeless iteration of the original book) and countless American adaptations – the last two being Tim Burton’s middling 2010 effort. Alice in Wonderland and the terrible 2016 sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass … But what about their European counterparts?
Join us as we head down the rabbit hole and guide you through lesser-known titles that are a must-watch for any fan of Carroll and his unique works as we explore European feature film adaptations of Carroll’s masterpieces.
Alice in Wonderland (1903) – United Kingdom
The first film adaptation of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow’s silent short film starring May Clark as Alice. It is only known to be a copy of the original film, and the British Film Institute (BFI) partially restored the film and released it in 2010.
The original movie took about 12 minutes; restoration takes about 8 minutes.
The first full-length British version of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, directed by George More O’Ferrall and starring Vivian Pickles as Alice, was released in 1946 and, while more watchable (and significantly less damaged than the 1903 version), Alice in Wonderland still worth your time as part of the history of cinema.
Made just 37 years after Lewis Carroll wrote his novel and eight years after the birth of cinema, this film is particularly memorable for its use of special effects, including Alice shrinking in the Hall of Many Doors. It was the longest film produced in the UK at the time.
You can find it on YouTube and we’ve easily embedded the movie below:
Alice au pays des merveilles (1949) – France
Carol Marsh plays Alice in this British-French production directed by British director Dallas Bower, and many of the Wonderland characters are brought to life with stop-motion animated puppets created by American puppeteer Lou Bunin.
Set in Victorian England, the film is not a direct adaptation. by himselfThe story follows writer Charles Dodgson and shapes the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ narrative around Carroll’s life.
The movie had a troubled screening. It wasn’t shown in the UK until 1985, allegedly Carroll’s representation of the Queen of Hearts (played by Pamela Brown in 1949) was deemed too vulgar to Queen Victoria. Additionally, because Disney Studios was also making its own feature-length animated version of Alice, Disney sued to prevent the movie from being released in the US.
However, there was some justice for this 1949 version when the Museum of Modern Art restored the film in a 35mm edition in a rare screening in 2009.
Alice ou la dernière fugue (1977) – France
Alice or la dernière fugue (Alice or the Last Escape) was inspired by Carroll’s novel by the famous director Claude Chabrol. She sees Alice Carroll (look what they did there?), played by Sylvia Kristel, leaving her now-hated husband.
When the windshield of his car mysteriously cracks, he is invited by an old man and his valet to stay in a spooky-looking mansion. He (like you) agrees and when he wakes up in the morning his car is fixed but the men are nowhere to be found. It’s weird, but she’s having her breakfast (it was already perfectly prepared for her) and trying to leave. Sadly, he soon realizes that there is no entrance or exit and he is stuck in a kind of uncertainty that challenges the indispensability of life.
A film with strong echoes of a Hammer horror classic, Chabrol creates a Hitchcockian atmosphere and portrays the duality of good and evil through its lighting and visuals, often injecting a bit of expressionism into parallel dimension sets. A masterfully terrifying film that plays cleverly with Carroll’s lore.
It’s not one of Chabrol’s most famous films, but it’s truly unique and worth your time.
Alicja (1982) – Poland / Belgium
alicja A strange musical-fantasy film co-produced by Belgian and Polish film companies and directed by Jacek Bromski and Jerzy Gruza. He sees Sophie Barjac (starring) falling in love with a runner named Rabbit, played by Jean-Pierre Cassel (Vincent’s father). The hurdle is that Queenie hires a pair of snipers to kill Rabbit…
Even if this movie is particularly difficult to find, we will not spoil the frankly ridiculous developments and a large number of musical numbers. You’re not missing much, but it’s worth noting that Henri Seroka’s solid music features Barjac’s vocals to Scottish singer Lulu.
For anyone out there who’s a fan of Lulu and still thinks her Eurovision-winning song ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang’ is a golden hit, this might be an antique worth seeking out.
Dreamchild (1985) – United Kingdom
Written by Dennis Potter and directed by Gavin Millar, this British drama is a fictionalized account of the child Alice Liddell, who inspired Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel.
The story is told from the perspective of 80-year-old Alice (Coral Browne) as she travels from England to the United States to receive an honorary degree from Columbia University to celebrate Carroll’s centennial birthday. As a child, Alice had a close friendship with the author, whom she knew as the Reverend Charles Dodgson (Ian Holm). She revisits her memories of Victorian Oxford (with young Alice, played by the excellent Amelia Shankley) and tries to make peace with her conflicted childhood and the complexity of the bond she shares with Dodgson.
dreamland An underappreciated film whose way it invokes the multifaceted nature of love is subtly captivating.
Plus, it features creature effects created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop (always a big draw) and provides voice-overs for Alan Bennett and Julie Walters, Mock Turtle, and Dormouse, respectively. What more do you want?
Něco z Alenky (1988) – Czechoslovakia
This unique and surreal revision of Jan Švankmajer’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is the absolute gem in this selection… If you have an affinity for the twisted and nightmarish.
An 88-minute long stop-motion fever dream sees the adventure of a live actor named Kristýna Kohoutová, who plays Alice, living with stop-motion animated creatures (inherently spooky figures made mostly of household items, taxidermy animals, and bones) and all voiced. by the young girl.
Painting directed by David Lynch Toy Storyand you’re halfway there.
A darker reimagining of a fairy tale from someone with an overt love of the source material and its disturbing undertones. This is reflected in the use of colors – the ever-changing hues often used in other adaptations are gone; they are replaced by thoughtful browns and gloomy grays.
As for the haunting ending, which shows a bored and lonely girl trying to amuse herself, there are ominous comments to ponder over what this Alice is capable of.
Nothing will spoil more but be sure to seek this out.
Malice in Wonderland (2009) – United Kingdom
From the chillingly sublime to the ridiculous…
Written by Jayson Rothwell and directed by Simon Fellows, this marvelous adaptation takes place in the heart of modern-day London. It follows a college student (Maggie Grace) who wakes up in a surreal and dirty Wonderland after being hit by a taxi and has no memories. She needs to find out who she is, where she’s from, and use her remaining wits to get back home.
Many of the original characters are represented, but given seedy makeovers to match the underworld. For example, the White Rabbit is portrayed as a taxi driver, played by Danny Dyer.
That should tell you everything you need to know.
Indeed, this modern interpretation of a classic tale is admirable but ultimately absurd in its intent to present a singular vision of Carroll’s story.
Shame. The title was very promising. But thankfully, the offer from the UK is much better…
Red Kingdom Rising (2014) – United Kingdom
Independent director Navin Dev’s feature debut is another ominous rendition of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, but unlike it Evil in wonderland, The Red Kingdom Rises manages to create something meaningful that goes beyond darkness for the sake of darkness.
We follow Mary Ann (Emily Stride) as a troubled young teacher who has to confront her past. After his father’s death, he returns to his Gothic family home, where he recalls childhood stories of the Red King, which his father once read to him.
Without spoiling a few key details, he soon finds himself in a morbid kingdom that Clive Barker would approve of, under the guidance of a Cheshire Cat masked girl who calls herself Alice, in her quest to confront the embodiment of her childhood fears.
Duration The Red Kingdom Rises it is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, it draws on a focused vision: Giant was inspired by the true narratives of adult survivors of child abuse, as well as Bruno Bettelheim’s seminal work ‘The Uses of Enchantment: The Signature and Importance of Fairy Tales’. ‘ and explores the emergence of repressed memories, particularly how a person can shut down by confronting trauma.
It’s far from perfect, but significantly more thought-provoking than many other depictions of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. She also understands that Carroll’s unique story doesn’t need a happy ending or an uplifting message to make it work.