Miller’s masterpiece was filmed for the BBC in 1966 and stars acting legends Peter Sellers, John Gielgud, Michael Redgrave, Peter Cook and Leo McKern, with dreamlike music written and performed by Ravi Shankar. In this Alice, an enigmatic young girl wanders through a Victorian landscape populated by the most bizarre and astonishing characters. Alice gently questions each one in turn, subtly mocking their middle-class English values. Packed with extras from the BBC vault, this Alice in Wonderland is a feast for the imagination!
Writer/producer/director Jonathon Miller takes us on a mind-numbing odyssey wherein our protagonist, Alice (played by Anne-Marie Mallik, who went on to do nothing else in the world of film or TV), falls asleep one lazy afternoon and soon finds herself being led through a strange land by the White Rabbit character (Wilfrid Brambell). It’s a world where everyone talks in conundrums. Alice frequently talks to herself (literally: she has conversations with her own inner monologue), with dialogue that even the most pretentious of intoxicated philosophers would scratch their heads over in disbelief.
Soon, Alice meets the Mad Hatter (played here by the great Peter Cook, whose tendency to act peculiarly makes his Hatter seem like the winner of an “Upper-Class Twit Of The Year” from that Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch) and his companions (Wilfrid Lawson and Michael Gough). Sir John Gielgud has a fetching bit as the Mock Turtle, while Peter Sellers makes his own Inspector Clouseau seem normal as a clucking King of Hearts. Since it was hard enough to get British actors to appear on the telly to begin with, don’t expect to see anyone in “animal” make-up: the entire cast of Wonderland Weirdoes are seen wearing traditional attire.
BBC Home Video has done an exemplary job of bringing The Wednesday Play’s Alice In Wonderland to DVD, with a transfer that stunningly captures Miller’s beautiful dreamlike photography. Choosing to shoot this on one with 35mm film as opposed to the BBC’s 16mm standards was a wise choice on Miller’s part: and the end-result is just as memorable as is the tele-film itself. A mono English track accompanies the print, which boasts a tiny audio discrepancy here and there, but for the most part, is fantastic. SDH subtitles are available, should anyone want to make sure they are actually hearing what they think they’re hearing.
You wouldn’t expect any extras on a catalogue title like this (particularly for a TV show as old as this), but BBC Home Video has opted to give its viewers a treat here. The first three items were available on a previous release of the title, and begin with an audio commentary with Jonathan Miller gives the filmmaker a chance to talk about the making of this project. Another version of Alice In Wonderland — this time from 1903 — shows us a severely-damaged silent short, which is narrated by historian Simon Brown. A gallery of still photos taken by Terence Spencer
The latter special features were included on a previous release of the title, but two new bonus ditties have been thrown in by the BBC for good measure. First off, there’s a vintage behind-the-scenes look at Ravi Shankar in the studio recording the soundtrack. Lastly, we get another episode from The Wednesday Play entitled Alice, wherein George Baker portrays as Lewis Carroll (or Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, if you prefer) and Deborah Watling as the real-life Alice that allegedly inspired him to write his famous novel.