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Nigel Le Vaillant
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Exploring the somewhat darker and more mysterious side of the Lewis Carroll's classic book, the movie follows Alice Liddell (the book's inspiration) as an old woman who is haunted by the characters she was once so amused by. As she thinks back on it, she starts to see her relationship with the shy author/professor in a new way and realizes the vast change between the young Alice and the old. Written by
Dreamchild is a beautiful and tender exploration of the (non-sexual) love of children which prompted the Rev. Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll) to write _Alice in Wonderland_. The story begins in 1932 as 80 year old Alice Hargreaves (nee Liddell, the inspiration for the fictional Alice) and her timid personal maid Lucy reach New York City to participate in a centenary celebration of Dogson's birth. Coral Browne is outstanding as Mrs. Hargreaves and Ian Holm plays Dodgson perfectly. Amelia Shankley is also excellent as the young Alice, seen in flashbacks and "dream" sequences involving characters from the book. The puppets, for lack of a better word, created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop (??), are faithful recreations of the original Tenniel drawings and, for the most part, much of their dialog is adapted from the book and wonderfully integrated into the film.
Besides the main plot there are several sub-plots, and the clashes between the upper class British woman and the rude, intrusive press are quite amusing, especially so when one considers how much worse the "news media" have become. The film touches on the plight of Lucy, a docile servant to Mrs. Hargreaves who worries about her future after Mrs. Hargreaves "meets my maker," as she puts it. Luckily for Lucy there is the American reporter Jack, who falls in love with Lucy and eventually convinces her it is not solely his desire for money ("You can tell when he's talking about money. His lips go all wet.") which draws him to the two women.
Through the flashbacks and dream sequences we see little Alice and Mrs. Hargreaves in various situations which shed more light on her friendship with Mr. Dodgson, whom she has almost completely forgotten as an old woman. Many details of the plot are taken directly from Alice in Wonderland and Dodgson's diaries and letters, making it an even greater pleasure for those familiar with his life. Initially Mrs. Hargreaves is terrified of dredging up long-forgotten memories but slowly comes to understand, accept, and express true appreciation for the love Dodgson felt for her, and many other children throughout his life.
This beautiful and moving film didn't receive the recognition it deserves due to the timing of its release, which unfortunately coincided in the USA with the witch-hunts and hysteria of the baseless "child-care Satanic abuse" cases popping up all over the country. Dodgson was, by most standards, an unusual man whose life-long stutter and natural shyness made him uncomfortable with many adults, but with small children he worked magic. He was one of the first amateur photographers and some have interpreted his penchant for taking pictures of children "au naturel" as an indication of pedophilia. Anyone who has read his diaries or letters knows he was most scrupulous about taking these types of pictures and virtually never did so without receiving parental permission, often having a parent present during the session. Charles Dodgson loved children in a pure and non-sexual way and that love gave us two of the world's classics in children's literature. The film makes this perfectly clear and is a tribute to the genius and gentleness of this kind, loving, and brilliant man.
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