'Alice in Wonderland' (1966)
(Peter Sellers, Ann-Marie Mallik, John Gielgud, Michael Redgrave, Wilfrid Brambell, Peter Cook, et al / DVD / NR / 2010 / Warner Home Video)
Overview: 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!
DVD Verdict: This is the most complex movie rendering of Carroll's classic, and one of the stranger ones. It's a 1966 BBC production in black and white, and done on a shoestring budget. As a result, there's just about nothing in the way of special effects - and certainly no animal-shaped costumes for the dormouse, white rabbit, and all the others. Instead, the characters simply dress in a deliberately over-done Victorian style, probably put together by raiding the stock BBC costume closet.
But what characters! Peter Sellers (who played in other Alice movies as well) is the King of Hearts, Peter Cook is the Mad Hatter, Leo McKern is the Duchess(!), and that's just the start of this star-driven production. Ravi Shankar composed the music and performs much of it, giving an other-worldly sense that fits Carroll's dreamscape perfectly. It's a kind of dream continually on the edge of nightmare without ever quite crossing the line, the same feeling you get when watching "The Prisoner" TV series.
But Alice truly makes the story. Ann-Marie Mallik, in what may be her only acting role, was the perfect choice. She moves through the dream with all the reserve you'd expect of a browbeaten Victorian child, but with all the presence and a little insolence of a woman-child entering her teens. Although she's more observer than participant in most scenes, she conveys a quiet sense of being fully engaged in it all.
This isn't a disneyfied, silly production for children. Nor is it a surreal exaggeration like Jan Svankmajer's (which I also enjoyed). It's a serious and baffling work. In that sense, it's more true to Dodgson's original work than any other Alice I've seen! [WW] This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) and comes with the Special Features of:
Cecil Hepworth's 1903 silent film version of Alice in Wonderland
Dennis Potter's 1965 biopic, Alice, about the real-life Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Carroll's creation
Ravi Shankar Plays for Alice
Behind-the-scenes photo gallery by renowned photographer Terence Spencer