Charles Ashton and British Silent Films

British Silent Film Star – Charles Ashton

The Last King of Wales (1922)

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Production Company. British and Colonial Kinematograph Co. Ltd. for Romance of British History series.  Director: George Ridgwell.

Script: Eliot Stannard.

Duration: 16 mins.  Length: 1960 feet.

Cast: Malvina Longfellow (Queen Eleanor), Charles Ashton (Llewellyn), Cynthia Murtagh (Eleanor de Montfort), Reginald Fox (Edward I), Grey Murray (Robert Burnel, King Edward I’s Lord Chancellor).

Source: Complete Index to World Film

Plot Synopsis taken from scope notes supplied by Mary Moylett, National Library of Wales’ National Screen & Sound Archive:

When Edward I returned from the Crusades to ascend the throne of England, he found his kingdom had been left in hopeless disorder by his father, Henry III.

Llewellyn (Charles Ashton), King of Wales, deeply loved Eleanor de Montfort and helped her father, Simon, in his rebellion against Henry III.  This was crushed, Simon de Montfort killed, and Llewellyn reduced to a vassal of the English King.  Eleanor de Montfort (Cynthia Murtagh), who with her mother, has found sanctuary in a French convent.

Her mother, Simon de Montfort’s widow, is reluctant for her daughter to marry Llewellyn while he is the King of England’s vassal!  Llewellyn leads a rebellion against the King but is deserted by his chief followers and surrounded by the English forces. Unaware of this, Eleanor de Montfort sets out by sea for Wales, but is captured and brought to King Edward.  He introduces her to his Queen Eleanor (Malvina Longfellow).  “I leave this damsel in your safe keeping, knowing that you will be like unto a sister to her!”  The Viking Llewellyn learns that Eleanor de Montfort is Edward’s prisoner, so he agrees to pay a huge indemnity, to give up certain lands, and to do homage to Edward at court.  There he is reunited with his Eleanor de Montfort.  The King and queen go out into the garden and meet the young pair.  The King shows Llewellyn the signed indemnity document which is to bring peace.  Llewellyn lifts an arm into the air and declares: “It is by showing mercy that a king makes friends!”  The pairs embrace.

Amazingly, a long lost version of this old film about Prince Llewellyn, the last King of Wales, was discovered in 2007 – just as the National Library of Wales prepared to celebrate its  national screen heritage.  The film was found in a 16-minute 9.5mm version held by a private collector, Patrick Moules, editor of Flickers Magazine, who loaned the film, from which the Library made a 35mm print (a process called ‘blowing up’!) for archiving and screening purposes.

Wales Online article, 17 October 2007

Most of the information about this film comes from the programme notes made by Dave Berry, formerly of the National Library of Wales, for the screening at The National Screen and Sound Archive’s film festival ‘Fflics’, 25-28 October 2007, and from Mary Moylett, Cataloguer with the Library.

The film is one of twenty to thirty key silent films the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales was been seeking for years.  According to Dave Berry, The Last King of Wales film, made by the British Colonial Films company, had seemingly vanished into oblivion shortly after its release, as part of a Romance of History series in 1922. It focuses on Prince Llewellyn and his wife Eleanor and stars the beautiful actress, American-born Malvina Longfellow, Charles Ashton and Cynthia Murtagh.

The Last King’s director, George Ridgwell, a former writer and actor, was a journeyman mainly active in film in the early 20s.  He made The Four Just Men for the Stoll Film Company, from Edgar Wallace’s novel in 1921 and two 15-episode series of Sherlock Holmes – The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1922) and The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1923), both starring Eille Norwood as Holmes.  Ridgwell also made many thrillers and crime movies, several adaptations from the novels of E Phillips Oppenheim – and another Wallace story The Crimson Circle (1922).

The producer and managing director of British and Colonial, whose fortunes were waning at this time, was Edward Godal, who was with Stoll at one period, and also formed his own company.

Malvina Longfellow, the lead actress, came to Britain in January 1916 to perform in an entertainment programme staged at the Century Theatre, London, for the British-American War Relief.  That same year, she married a British officer who had served in the Dardanelles and made England her home.  Malvina appeared in films from 1917, beginning with a role in The Will of the People. Her many film appearances included key parts in Adam Bede (1918); as Emma, Lady Hamilton in Maurice Elvey’sThe Romance of Lady Hamilton (1919) and in Kenelm Foss’s Lady Hamilton (1919); with Gerald du Maurier and Edmund Gwenn in the controversial Unmarried (1920); Calvary (1920); Moth and Rust (1921); Phroso (1922), The Wandering Jew (1923); The Indian Love Lyrics (1923), and The Celestial City (1929).

A special presentation of The Last King of Wales took place on the final day of the first Welsh Classics Film Festival on 28th October 2007 at the National Screen and Sound Archive’s public cinema, the Drwm .  Only single frames were shown as it had yet to be transferred to another format and officially preserved.  The film is available for viewing by booking through the National Library of Wales.

The film was also screened the following year, in October 2008, at the Pordenone 2008 silent film festival held near Venice.




Written by anneramsden

March 9, 2010 at 2:57 pm

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