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The Romantic Story Of Margaret Catchpole** (Raymond Longford, 1911) Spencer's Pictures, dp Ernest Higgins; Lottie Lyell (Margaret Catchpole), Raymond Longford, Augustus Neville, Sybil Wilde, William Coulter, E. Melville, Fred Hardy, Walter Vincent, Fred Twitcham, Jack Goodall, J. Howard, H. Parker, J. Eldridge, C. Swain, Arno, Mr Spencer's dapple grey horse; 3000 ft (?)
The story is founded on fact. In a village on the south coast of England, young Margaret Catchpole is being courted by two rivals, Will Laud, a smuggler, and Lieutenant Barry of the coast guards. She favours Laud, and when he escapes from custody after a government raid on the smugglers, Margaret steals a horse and tries to join him. In a fight with the coast guards, Laud is killed and Margaret is arrested for horse-stealing and transported to Botany Bay. During her seven years as a convict she begins working in a children's hospital. Meanwhile, Barry resigns from the guards and comes to settle in Sydney. Eventually he finds Margaret, woos and weds her, and they live happily at Windsor, where Margaret is well-loved and respected for her hospital work.
About half of the film survives today, and from it one can see Longford's astute use of a wide range of picturesque backgrounds, carefully chosen in and around Sydney to represent the 'Old Country', with an imposing rocky coastline and crashing waves effectively supporting the mood of the romance. Elsewhere a grim corner of a slum street is used as a suitably sordid setting for a meeting between informers. In addition, the leading performances show some sign that Longford was attempting to reduce stage mannerisms in favour of a more naturalistic acting style. Although some of the supporting players are theatrical grotesques, Lottie Lyell's performance in particular is a convincing portrayal of an energetic, forthright and wilful young woman. Her skill at horse-riding is very much in evidence, and the early part of the film contains several shots accentuating her horsemanship. Longford's own performance makes the 'unworthy' character of Will Laud thoroughly sympathetic compared with the insipid Barry.
A premiere was held at Spencer's Lyceum Theatre, Sydney, on 7 August 1911, and the film earned a healthy commercial return. Pike & Cooper: 22.
Pike, Andrew & Ross Cooper 1998, Australian Film 1900-1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, OUP, Melbourne: 22.
Reade, Eric 1975, The Australian Screen: A Pictorial History of Australian Film-making, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne: 49, 52, 53.
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