The story of Bristol-born film pioneer William Friese-Greene is told in The Magic Box, which was made for the Festival of Britain 70 years ago to celebrate British ingenuity.
Based on Ray Allister’s book, Friese-Greene, Close-Up of an Inventor, the film offers fascinating insights into the pursuit of a dream – in this case to invent moving images – and the impact this has on the inventor’s family (Friese-Greene died virtually penniless thanks to his obsession). It’s also a defence of cinema as an art form for the people.
With a stellar cast and a brilliant production team – The Magic Box was made by the Boulting brothers and had a screenplay by Eric Ambler – it has been attacked as inaccurate. Although it plays with the facts as all biopics do, it provides a vivid representation of Friese-Greene, both the man and the way he lived his life. And it doesn’t claim that Friese-Greene invented moving pictures; as he says in the film, he was just one of the pioneers.
Terrifically entertaining with an engaging lead role played by Robert Donat, The Magic Box puts forward a great story through a cast of leading actors and actresses. There were cameo appearances by many British stars, including Laurence Olivier playing the policeman who becomes the first member of the public to see Friese-Greene’s motion pictures projected on a screen.
With an introduction by film director and historian Peter Domankiewicz.
It is presented as part of Opening Up the Magic Box, a heritage element of Film 2021 which marks the centenary of the death of Bristol-born film pioneer William Friese-Greene and the 125th anniversary of the first public cinema screening in Bristol, which took place at the Tivoli on 8 June 1896, as well as celebrating Bristol – a UNESCO City of Film since 2017.
Peter Domankiewicz is a director and writer for feature films and television. He became fascinated by the Friese-Greene story whilst living in Bristol in the 1990s and has undertaken the most substantial research on Friese-Greene to date. He writes about William Friese-Greene on his blog William Friese-Greene and Me. Follow him on Twitter @Domankiewicz
Image credit: Justyna Sanko
Booking is managed by Watershed’s Box Office. Book online or call 0117 927 5100. Tickets are £8.50 full / £5.00 concessions / £5.00 under 24s, refugees and asylum seekers. Concessions apply to Full Time Students, Job Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance, 60+ who have retired, Equity and BECTU members and disabled people.
Please note that this event takes place at Arnolfini. Access information is available on their website.
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