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"Alice in Wonderland" [Movie]


The silent 1903 British production, Alice in Wonderland, is the first film adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Percy Stow and Cecil Hepworth directed this pioneering film version based on Sir John Tenniel's original illustrations.

Film archivists at the British Film Institute National Archive used color film tinting to restore the only extant copy of the film (badly damaged by the natural decline of nitrate) that dated to the dawn of the movie industry. The original 12-minute movie (8 minutes of which have survived) was the longest film ever produced in England by 1903. Cecil M. Hepworth cast himself as the Frog Footman and his wife as the White Rabbit and the Red Queen. A family pet starred as The Cheshire cat. The playing cards in the Queen's Procession include a cast of child actors. May Clark (a film cutter and production secretary for Hepworth Film Studios) starred as Alice; the film was shot at Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England, UK.

It is commonly assumed that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson based the character of Alice on 10-year-old, Alice Pleasance Liddell (1852 – 1934), the little girl who inspired Alice's Adventures Under Ground, and whom Dodgson liked to photograph in occasionally suggestive poses. For a time, Dodgson was close friends with Alice and her young siblings; he also had friendships with other girls many of whom he also photographed, some in the nude and semi-nude. Although 20th century biographers alleged that Dodgson was obsessed with little girls, recent scholarship suggests that Dodgson's photographs were more typical of the "Victorian child cult" aesthetic that represented child-nudity as an expression of innocence. (The phenomenon of "girl worship" also appeared in the literary works of other canonical male authors such as Wordsworth, Dickens, and Ruskin, who idealized and idolized little girls.)

Along with other authors from the Golden Age of children's literature, however, Dodgson represented children as constrained by culture but not victimized by it. In the book as in the film, Alice is independent, intelligent, and curious.

In what ways was the representation of Alice—not as a fragile flower but as competent and self-reliant—consistent with changing ideals of middle-class girlhood and in which ways did it depart from them? Researchers might consider comparing Alice's original depiction with her portrayal in the film that was produced nearly 40 years after the book's publication. What accounts for the changes? Consider the influence of late Victorian and early Edwardian notions of girlhood on the filmmakers by examining the recently established girls' high schools that fostered an academic and sporting ethos. What meanings might the film have had to school-aged English girls at the turn of the century?


Hepworth, Cecil and Percy Stow. Alice in Wonderland. American Mutoscope and Biograph Company Edison Manufacturing Company Kleine Optical Company, 1903. Annotated by Miriam Forman-Brunell and Carol Dyhouse.

How to Cite This Source

""Alice in Wonderland" [Movie]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #420, (accessed January 22, 2022).