Science fiction has always been more about Right Here rather than Out There and the late-Victorian/Edwardian vogue for the genre often focused on the military threat from other worlds. There may be a line between War of the Worlds, imperial expansion and the boom of the 1950s which was arguably more about the insidious threat of creeping communism than invasions from space. Get to the sixties and, well, the enemy was definitely our own governments as the new wave of Philip K Dick, Harland Ellison et al struck out against totalitarianism in our name.
Alien races could also use their advanced states to help rather than humble… as this recovered relic from 1913 demonstrates. Aliens were to be admired, better versions of ourselves and proof that improvement can be continuous: our conscience… reminding us of social responsibilities and of the gap between the rich and the deserving poor.
|E. Holman Clark and the orginal Charles Hawtrey|
|The silent streets of London|
Events begin on the Red Planet where the court of Mars is about to find Ramiel (E. Holman Clark) guilty of transgressing one of their most sacred laws. Using a viewing device the court looks down on their neighbouring planet to observe Parker’s repeated acts of un-kindness as he barges a poor match seller away at Trafalgar Square, refuses to pay after watching a Punch and Judy show and spurns the pleas for help of a worthy tramp (Hubert Willis) who has fallen on hard times.
|Such a mean old man...|
Parker is so self-engrossed he refuses to make himself ready to take his pretty fiancé Minnie Templer (Crissie Bell) to a party but when she arrives with her Aunt Martha (Kate Tyndale), Minnie lets him off and makes sure he’s comfortable… you can see how their relationship works (even though he looks twenty years too old for her). Things backfire as smoothie Arthur Dicey (Frank Hector) arrives and offers to take Parker’s belle to the ball… but he’s too lazily complacent to notice.
|Busy doing nothing|
|Ramiel uses the Force|
Summoning the spirit of Christmas present, Ramiel shows him the impact of his selfish ways on Minnie who is beginning to enjoy Dicey’s company at the Clarence’s shindig… but he still doesn’t look like budging.
|Parker is shown Minnie dallying with Dicey|
A Message from Mars is clearly of its time but from A Christmas Carol through It’s a Wonderful Life to Groundhog Day (even The Lego Movie!) we all love a little magic realism that holds a mirror up to our own guilty lives: a quick fix – well an hour or two – that shows us that even though we’re bad we’re not all that bad.
It’s fascinating to watch a British feature from this period and Waller shows himself to be up to speed with the latest innovations in his choice of shots – the narrative flows seamlessly as characters’ eye-line’s lead onto each scene shift, the camera pans and the actors use the framed space to maximum effect. There’s even a superb shot of a fire engine tearing through Edwardian streets.
The acting is a little stagey but very well done with Hawtrey the stand out as the puffed-up Parker – a rich man fighting for his right to go through life with the snooze button switched full on. He has range though and he’ll get to show it.
E. Holman Clark is grumpily ethereal as Rameil – a man-Martian intent on rescuing an alien’s life rather more than his own (we never find out what it was he did to deserve this) whilst Crissie Bell fizzes as the patient Minnie somehow infatuated with London’s laziest…
The restoration looks stunning given the age and there are some frames that are so clear it almost looked like this was some kind of practical joke – a modern pastiche – but no, that’s what you get for six months of painstaking diligence. There’s a short feature on the work on the BBC arts page: a frame-by-frame labour of love.
|Chrissie Bell: Edwardian elegance|
A Message from Mars was released on 12th December on both the BFI and BBC Arts players and is available to watch for free! So, go ahead and fill your boots and thank both organisations for this early present: A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!