Reviews: Alice in Wonderland (DVD)

The BBC’s 1966 production of Lewis Caroll’s layered, kaleidoscopic dream-world novel Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland – almost universally retitled when adapted as Alice In Wonderland – is a darkly fantastical exploration of the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Starring Anne-Marie Mallik (in her only screen appearance) and featuring such giants of stage and screen as Peter Sellers, Peter Cook, Sir Michael Redgrave and Sir John Gielgud, this gothic, nightmarish adaptation of Alice In Wonderland is unlike any other I’ve seen to date. Director Johnathan Miller crafts a haunting, eerie, black-and-white dreamscape featuring slightly more realistic depictions of those mad and magical characters we all recognise from the various adaptations than we had seen before or have seen since.

Avoiding the florid, dramatic aesthetic seen in other adaptations – and indeed in the illustrations featured in the original book – Miller instead grounds the tale in a disturbing, dark reality. The titular character wanders from encounter to encounter, a troubled, confused girl in a troubling, confusing world. Mallik is serviceable as Alice, playing her part with an understated confidence. That is just about the limit of her range, however, and I wasn’t all-too-surprised to learn it was her only on-screen performance. The rest of the cast, however, are fantastic – special mention must go to the always-brilliant Sellers as the snidely King of Hearts.

Miller’s adaptation gets closer to the core of Carroll’s story than any exploration ever should – half of the brilliance of the tale is the way(s) in which it approaches the difficulties of growing up. Metaphor, symbolism, analogy – Carroll’s original book was masterful in its application of these literary techniques, and the wonderland of Miller’s film strips away many of those layers. Nevertheless, it is a stark, effective film and definitely worth a look for any fans of Alice In Wonderland and its many incarnations.

The DVD release is incredible; for a 1966 television production, a lot of time and effort has been put into accompanying special features. The extras include an insightful audio commentary by director Jonathan Miller, the 1903 silent film adaptation of Alice In Wonderland, the 1965 feature film entitled Alice that chronicles the relationship between Lewis Carroll and the real-life Alice (Alice Liddell), behind the scenes photos and a feature on the composer of the film’s score Ravi Shankar.


review by Ben Vernel


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