Capital Celluloid - Day 291: Thursday Oct 20

The First Born (Mander, 1928): Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, 7.30pm

This film is screening as part of the London Film Festival. Here is my general introduction to the festival. Over the length of the festival I will pick a film a day. I am as confident as I can be that this is the pick of the movies within the parameters I have set - the movies you are likely to get a ticket for and the ones you are unlikely to see in London very soon unless you go to see it this week.

Here is the BFI introduction to this Archive strand gala screening:  

'The plot of The First Born feels not unlike a lost episode of Downton Abbey. However, the film was expertly co-scripted by Alma Reville (Mrs Alfred Hitchcock) and it's hard not to see her influence in raising it beyond old-school melodrama to be a tour de force of late silent British cinema. Sir Hugo Boycott (Miles Mander) and his young bride (a pre-blonde Madeleine Carroll) have a passionate relationship, but it founders when she fails to produce an heir. This is a surprisingly 'adult' film and made with both elegance and invention. Particularly surprising among Mander's sometimes Hitchcockian box of visual tricks is a handheld camera sequence that allows the audience to become voyeur as Boycott stalks the marital bedroom to find his wife in the bath. The story is oddly reflected in reality: the 'first born' is played by Mander's own son and it was well known that the leads were involved romantically - well enough known to bring Mander's wife to the set to demand an explanation. This major new restoration by the BFI National Archive includes reinstated missing footage and the reintroduction of a beautiful range of tints.' Bryony Dixon and Robin Baker

Pamela Hutchinson, who produces the excellent Silent London blog, has written an extensive article for the Guardian on The First Born which investigates the Hitchcock link, delves into the background of the film, provides details of the new score by Stephen Horne and discusses the restoration. You can read that here.

Here is a preview clip of the handheld camera sequence referenced in the introduction above.

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