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The Life Story of David Lloyd George (1918)

 -  Biography | Drama | History
6.9
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Bio-pic of Britain's World War 1 Prime Minister.

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Title: The Life Story of David Lloyd George (1918)

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Cast

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Norman Page ...
Alma Reville ...
...
Douglas Munro
Thomas Canning
Judd Green
Winifred Sadler
Miriam Stuart
Eric Stuart
Leonard Tugwell
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Bio-pic of Britain's World War 1 Prime Minister.

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1.33 : 1
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Alma Reville became the wife and lifelong critic-helpmate of Alfred Hitchcock. See more »

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Referenced in Labour of Love (2000) See more »

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A landmark of British silent cinema that lay unseen for over 75 years
25 April 2013 | by (advicetothelovelorn.blogspot.com) – See all my reviews

Intended as a morale-booster in the wake of World War One, this staggeringly ambitious British epic simply disappeared when Elvey and his team were paid £20,000 by parties unknown to bury it just prior to release. Considered lost for decades, it was found in the house of Lloyd George's grandson more than 75 years later, and finally screened in 1996. Such is the film's scale of ambition and level of success that silent film scholars argue that if it had been released in 1918 as planned, it may have altered the course of British cinema forever.

Viewed almost a century on, it's a remarkable achievement: storytelling on a grand scale. The sequence depicting a riot at Birmingham Town Hall utilises 10,000 extras, intelligently orchestrated (well, once some of them stop grinning); there are victory parades, fog-shrouded war scenes and symbolic tableaux: France's Marianne raises her sword triumphantly upon a Great War battlefield, we flash back into American history, and receive a visit from the ghost of premiers past. There are rural scenes of breathtaking bucolic beauty, and tours of wartime factories which, even if they go on a bit, offer a valuable history lesson, and provide a glimpse of Elvey himself.

Made with the blessing of Lloyd George's family, and featuring a distinctly hagiographic tone, the film begins by showing his genuine birth certificate and snapshots of his parents, shoots extensively at genuine locations, and features numerous details and anecdotes from his career, shared by friends and confidantes, alongside his notable political triumphs. From a humble background, he becomes a solicitor, before his gift for oratory finds him a place in the House of Commons, then the cabinet, and then the hot-seat. He fights for the poor, runs away from the Suffragettes like a big girl's blouse, and then inspires his nation to triumph against the empire-builders of Germany - while lamenting the human cost of the conflict - in what may be a slightly fanciful retelling of the Great War. (I also can't help but notice that the French celebrate his uplifting wartime speech in Paris by waving white handkerchiefs in the air; typical French.) Lloyd George is played, as an adult, by Norman Page, with Alma Reville - Hitchcock's wife and sometime collaborator - as his spouse, and Ernest Thesiger, the great Golden Age character actor, best-known for The Old Dark House and The Bride of Frankenstein, as Joseph Chamberlain. It's Page's show, though, he's rarely off-screen and proves a charismatic screen presence, with a perma-pointing finger.

Such is its antiquity that the flaws are obvious to the modern viewer: there's little dramatic tension throughout the narrative, the scenes of ordinary people's lives being transformed by the beneficent title figure are heavy-handed in the extreme, and where the writers don't have access to speeches from the late 19th century, they're resistant to speculation, and so simply show Lloyd George speaking with no intertitles. There's also a truly baffling scene in which the film breaks off from its story about social reform to let us know that Dave enjoyed a day off and scored a bogey on the first hole of the golf course, an impressive achievement that's then expressed pictorially. Sadly, no mention is made of Lloyd George's greatest attribute; greater even than his golfing prowess. In his diaries, Tony Benn recalls how he was showing a group of students around the Strangers' Gallery at the House of Commons when he happened to mention the former prime minister. At this point he was interrupted by a very old man, who rose to his feet and announced, "Lloyd George had a prick like a donkey".

As a director, Elvey shows extraordinary promise, but also comes up short compared to, say, Griffith, due to a marked lack of close-ups. The film is rousing and frequently compelling, with an eye for a crowd scene and an ear (or another eye?) for a great line of speech-making, but it's missing the human touch that comes from photographing the face. Elvey is a whizz with a long shot and a wonder with a montage, but a film is often too aloof if you can't read people's expressions. Having said that, on one of the rare occasions when we do get a medium close-up, it's in order to view what must be the most unconvincing false beard I've ever seen. Lloyd George's dad looks like someone has affixed a doormat to his face.

For all the film's highlights - which while strung together rather episodically are great in number - stretching from little Lloyd George shaking his fist at a grown-up buying off the family furniture, to refusing to say the catechism at Sunday school, through speeches in the Commons, a genuinely funny scene about a big liar, and that huge riot, my favourite is by far the short procession sequence, tinted in red, lit by night fires and accompanied by the loveliest portion of Neil Brand's beautiful score, in which Lloyd George's supporters celebrate his election with a sign that reads, "VICTORY FOR YOUNG WALES". Shot from high above, masterfully-composed and effortlessly moving, it's the highlight of an inevitably dated but extraordinarily confident and mightily impressive landmark in British silent cinema.


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