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Now old, ill, poor, and largely forgotten, William Freise-Greene was once very different. As young and handsome William Green he changed his name to include his first wife's so that it sounded more impressive for the photographic portrait work he was so good at. But he was also an inventor and his search for a way to project moving pictures became an obsession that ultimately changed the life of all those he loved. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <email@example.com>
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I'm sure it didn't hurt in the resolve of the British film industry to honor one of its pioneers and one who some claim to have been the actual inventor of motion pictures, William Friese-Greene, to have one of his grandchildren, Richard Greene as a film star in his own right. The Magic Box is a fine tribute to someone generally forgotten if known at all to American audiences especially.
Robert Donat brings his Mr. Chips character and weaves it into the character of William Friese-Greene. The story is told in flashback and in reverse order, first by his second wife Margaret Johnston from their first meeting in 1897 through their marriages and then later by Donat himself as he remembers his first wife Maria Schell. But in both remembrances, the thing that stands out is his driving obsession to capture movement on some medium. As Donat eloquently puts it, 'movement is life'.
It costs him dear, he does not get the credit he feels due him, it goes to that upstart Thomas Edison from the USA. Actually fellow Britishers George Alfred Smith and Charles Urban and Frenchmen Auguste and Louis Lumiere and Emile Reynaud all could claim pioneering contributions to the motion picture as well. Friese-Greene was a fine portrait photographer, but spent all his money on his experiments, even selling the patent he took out on his early motion picture camera.
Donat, Johnston and Schell are supported by a massive cast of the best British players doing small parts in tribute and belated recognition to the guy who now is considered if not THE inventor of motion pictures, the founder of British cinema. From Laurence Olivier in the role of an astonished policeman who is the first to see Robert Donat's breakthrough, to Bernard Miles as Donat's stuffy cousin who's worried about having the bite put on him, to young John Howard Davies as the youngest of Friese-Greene's sons, you'll recognize lots of familiar faces.
Still the film belongs to Donat as the obsessed, but touching Friese- Greene who helped give the world a universal medium of entertainment. Donat never gave a bad performance on the screen and Friese-Greene ranks among his best.
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