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The Life Story of David Lloyd George (1918)

| Biography, Drama, History
Bio-pic of Britain's World War 1 Prime Minister.





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Cast overview:
Norman Page ...
Alma Reville ...
Douglas Munro
Thomas Canning
Judd Green
Winifred Sadler
Miriam Stuart
Eric Stuart
Leonard Tugwell


Bio-pic of Britain's World War 1 Prime Minister.

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1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Alma Reville became the wife and lifelong critic-helpmate of Alfred Hitchcock. See more »


Referenced in Labour of Love (2000) See more »

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Political Theatre
20 November 2012 | by See all my reviews

"The Life Story of David Lloyd George" was made in 1918, but wasn't distributed to the public until 1996 after it had been rediscovered and restored by the Wales Film and Television Archive. For unclear reasons, the subject of the biopic, Prime Minister David Lloyd George, had the film confiscated and the producers reimbursed for production costs. Some speculate this was a political reaction to anti-Semitism and fear of connections being made between Lloyd George and the film's Jewish producers. This censorship is especially odd because the film is propaganda—a fawningly uncritical and saintly portrayal of Lloyd George.

An opening title card states the narrative clearly, "The scenes that follow exhibit Mr. Lloyd George's early training, his strenuous and well-spent youth, his rise to political influence and fame, his vindication of popular rights and social reform, and his brilliant energy in the supreme conflict with aggressive militarism." One problem is that the film is a dry chronicling of Lloyd George's achievements. Although he lived through challenging times, as a character he's hardly ever shown struggling to overcome obstacles. Lloyd George is depicted as merely willing things done. He gives a speech and, voilà, the United Kingdom has a welfare state. Literally, scenes of him giving speeches stating his legislation are followed by scenes of citizens' lives improving from it. He orders factory owners to make munitions and, voilà, the Allies win the war. There are extended, documentary-style sequences of Lloyd George touring the factories. Thus, the film may lead one to admire his accomplishments, but they don't make him a sympathetic character. It's in the childhood scenes, where Lloyd George overcomes his father's death and matures, that the picture comes closest to offering a compelling personal obstacle. That's forfeited once the narrative starts foreshadowing the would-be-minister as comparable to biblical heroes.

The other problem is that this is a silent film about great oratory and political theatre, but, here, the filmmakers did well to overcome that disadvantage. In addition to plentiful title cards, there are many crowd scenes. Reportedly, some included thousands of extras. These include scenes of Lloyd George delivering speeches to the public and to Parliament, a nighttime scene lit by torches where people celebrate his reelection, a mob scene, "militant suffragists" fighting the police, and an army formation. In these scenes, the filmmakers' reliance on long shots pays off; otherwise, the picture suffers from having barely any medium or close-up shots. Some picturesque scenes outdoors also stand out, though, and are enhanced by tinting. On the other hand, the war scenes aren't impressive—battles seem to be fought through smoke bombs. Worse, a scene where a soldier struggles to decide between carrying his gun or rescuing a woman who's apparently in such distress that she can't walk on her own and a scene of a metaphorical tug of war are laughable. (Unrelated, there's an odd moment in the scene where a father steals bread for his family, where one of his children, seemingly unscripted, vomits. The scene continues as though it never happened.) Nevertheless, the discovery of this unique, early British biopic is welcome, and, although I wouldn't claim it a "masterpiece", like film historian Kevin Brownlow and others have, "The Life Story of David Lloyd George" was worthwhile for its pioneering mastery of managing crowd scenes to visually depict political theatre.

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