Having watched Mathew Sweet’s Silent Britain documentary as well as the British episode of Brownlow and Gill’s Cinema Europe, I’ve been on the look out for more home-grown films like Nell Gwyn that support the idea that there was more to UK film production than quota quickies and the worthy yet dull efforts so derided by contemporary reviewers in the self-referential pages of Close Up.
Mere hundreds survive of the thousands of British silents made and it is difficult to compare what remains with the better archived materials from Germany, France, Scandinavia and Hollywood. But, there is one film from 1918 that points to our potential with drama – albeit docu-drama – and that is Maurice Elvey’s The Life Story of David Lloyd George – which was suppressed by the government at the time. Over a decade later the director, undoubtedly one of this country’s great film makers (silent and other-wise), turned his hand to science fiction and some prescient pacifism.
|London and New York in the 1950 of 1929...|
Based on a play by Noel Pemberton Billing, who also co-scripted with one L'Estrange Fawcett, the film is clearly influenced by Metropolis and whilst Elvey can’t match Lang’s vision or budget there is one sequence which is as good as almost anything in the German film…
It’s the near future of 1950 and the Federated States of Europe is at loggerheads with a union of the Atlantic States. Dark forces are at work trying to ramp up the tensions and push the two sides toward World War Two – arms manufacturers need more war and there’s no profit in pacifism.
A shoot out at the American/Canadian border increases tensions and as the two governments argue over how to respond we see the future London – quaint skyscrapers dwarfing the Houses of Parliament as flying ships criss-cross the capital. One of the largest buildings houses The Peace League, a global organisation aiming the stop the military-industrial complex from destroying themselves. The Peace League is member-driven and in their vast central hall of operations we see the ever-growing count of converts approaches 25 million – the peace is with them.
|Benita Hume and Humberston Wright|
|Jameson Thomas vid-skypes Benita Hulme or something like that...|
|The Channel Tunnel|
Meanwhile Michael is taking Evelyn out nightclubbing and endures a stilted few minutes with her disapproving father whilst she readies herself using hi-tech bathing equipment: the longest walk-through shower in cinema history… Wet rooms haven’t quite played out this way although I like the extension of the hair-dryer principle.
Just as the party is in full swing events are halted by an announcement of the Channel Tunnel atrocity: the President has ordered full mobilisation and war seems certain. Evelyn briefly tries to address the revenge-hungry hoards but she is shouted down and Michael goes off to get his uniform.
|Evelyn addresses the women conscripts|
|Michael and his guards|
|Dr Seymour and the President: who will speak out for peace?|
|The walk-through shower... by now every home should have one|
|The human cost of destruction|
High Treason doesn’t rank with Elvey’s magnificent Hindle Wakes or Lloyd George but it certainly has its moments and is an entertaining ride – unless, that is, you’re going through the Channel Tunnel.
It was also made as a sound film in which the repeatedly-sung Peace Song might have more impact and there’s a definitely transitional feel to the narrative with some lengthy titles. I’d also really like to hear that one man synthetic band in the night club! Raymond Massey also pops up arguing for peace in government meetings: there would be more of him to come.
|Watch the film now on the BFI Player!|