Charles Ashton and British Silent Films

British Silent Film Star – Charles Ashton

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Reveille film appears on BFI’s 75 most wanted films list

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The hunt is on for Britain’s missing films and Reveille (1924) is one film to appear on the British Film Institute’s most wanted list. The film was directed by George Pearson and starred Betty Balfour and Stewart Rome with Charles Ashton playing a bit part as Sam, a simple soldier.

Most of the following information comes from Kelly Robinson, Filmographic Editor (Festivals and Awards), BFI National Library.  The reason why the BFI is so keen to find this film is that it was an experiment. British cinema of this period is often judged to be staid and unimaginative, an assumption contradicted by the ambition of directors like George Pearson, and Reveille may have marked his creative zenith. It also represented an important period of British history providing a view of London during and after the Great War.

According to the BFI, Reveille is a meditation on the injustices of peacetime and ordinary people’s spirit of survival. Scenes described in great detail in the reviews include a carnivalesque opening, with a circus and fairground replete with a large joy wheel. One of the reviews also mentions puppets, which would also feature in Pearson’s 1926 film The Little People. Pearson’s work was often compared to films from abroad, like France and Sweden – in other words, it was artistic. The film was premiered in front of the Prince of Wales in 1924 and he was heard to declare “What a jolly good film”. During the film showings, musicians were instructed to stop playing to mark the two-minutes silence for the Armistice and the film was played silent.

The Star wrote that: “laughter and tears are the keynotes of the story. London’s hectic days when the war was drawing to a close, the ‘home on leave’ spirit, fragments of France, Armistice Day, the tragedy of a telegram, and finally the long-drawn-out struggle in ‘waiting for things to come right’ are all shown with a realistic fidelity and idealistic aim that will make a deep impression when the film is released to the country.”

Many writers drew attention to the lack of a story, but most found this to be pleasing in its closeness to real life. The Illustrated Sunday Herald even headlined its review ‘The Greatest British Film’, continuing: “I feel sure that hundreds of thousands of ex-servicemen, the men who suffered in the war and in the peace, are going to acclaim George Pearson as the man who interpreted their soul.” Balfour and Stewart Rome were singled out for praise, with the Herald noting the latter’s performance was “played with consuming restraint and hidden fire.”

At least some material from Reveille is in the hands of a private collector, sequences from which were shown in a 1969 documentary about George Pearson in the BBC’s Yesterday’s Winess.  A short clip was also featured in the British Cinema episode “Opportunity Lost” from Kevin Brownlow and Dan Carter’s 1995 BBC series “Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood”, a documentary mini-series about the rise and fall of the European silent film industry (1895-1933).

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Written by anneramsden

June 13, 2011 at 1:21 pm