Dreamchild (1985)

Dreamchild (1985)

Taglines: The True Story of the Real Alice in Wonderland.

Exploring the somewhat darker and more mysterious side of the Lewis Carroll’s classic book, the movie follows Alice Liddell (the book’s inspiration) as an old woman who is haunted by the characters she was once so amused by. As she thinks back on it, she starts to see her relationship with the shy author/professor in a new way and realizes the vast change between the young Alice and the old.

Dreamchild is a 1985 British drama film written by Dennis Potter, directed by Gavin Millar and produced by Rick McCallum and Kenith Trodd. It stars Coral Browne, Ian Holm, Peter Gallagher, Nicola Cowper and Amelia Shankley and is a fictionalised account of Alice Liddell, the child who inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The story is told from the point of view of the elderly Alice (now the widowed Mrs Hargreaves) as she travels to the United States from England to receive an honorary degree from Columbia University celebrating the centenary of Lewis Carroll’s birth. It shares common themes with Potter’s television play Alice (1965).

The film evolves from the factual to the hallucinatory as Alice revisits her memories of the Reverend Charles Dodgson (Holm), in Victorian-era Oxford to her immediate present in Depression-era New York. Accompanied by a shy young orphan named Lucy (Cowper), old Alice must make her way through the modern world of tabloid journalism and commercial exploitation while attempting to come to peace with her conflicted childhood with the Oxford don.

Dreamchild (1985)

About the Story

The film begins on the ship bearing Alice (Coral Browne) and Lucy from England to New York City. As she and Lucy (Nicola Cowper) disembark, they are set upon by several journalists, all trying to get a story or quote from her. Clearly bewildered by all the excitement, she is befriended by an ex-reporter, Jack Dolan (Peter Gallagher), who helps her and Lucy through the legions of the press. Dolan quickly becomes her agent and finds endorsement opportunities for her. Throughout it all, a romance develops between Jack and Lucy.

But all is not well with Alice. Being so advanced in age, she needs Lucy, of whom she can be very demanding, to be her constant companion. When left alone in their hotel room, she begins to hallucinate and sees Mr. Dodgson (Ian Holm) in their room, and then, later, the Mad Hatter (voiced by Tony Haygarth) and March Hare (voiced by Ken Campbell). Joining them for their insane tea party, they berate her for being so old and forgetful. She remembers also the lazy boating party of 4 July 1862, when the young Reverend Charles Dodgson, (Lecturer in Mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, where her father was the Dean), had attempted to entertain her and her sisters by spinning the nonsense tale that grew to be Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Via flashbacks, it is insinuated that Dodgson had an infatuation with the young Alice Liddell (Amelia Shankley). Was it an innocent admiration he had for the girl or something inappropriate? Alice is clearly troubled by her recollections of Dodgson. The parameters of her relationship with him were somewhat tortured. Dodgson was unwaveringly adoring of Alice, and while she was usually kind, she could sometimes be cruel and mocking of him, especially of his occasional stutter – as on the day of the boating party when she was on the verge of her teens and trying to impress a couple of young students (one of whom she eventually marries). Alice tries to rectify her feelings and past relationship with the author in her mind.

By the time she delivers her acceptance speech at Columbia University, she comes to terms with Dodgson and the way she treated him. In another fantasy sequence with the Mock Turtle, the viewers see them finally reconciled together in a way that can be interpreted as all-encompassing, as both mutual apology and forgiveness.

Dreamchild Movie Poster (1985)

Dreamchild (1985)

Directed by: Gavin Millar
Starring: Coral Browne, Ian Holm, Peter Gallagher, Nicola Cowper, Amelia Shankley, Jane Asher, Caris Corfman, Imogen Boorman, Emma King
Screenplay by: Dennis Potter
Production Design by: Roger Hall
Cinematography by: Billy Williams
Film Editing by: Angus Newton
Music by: Stanley Myers
Costume Design by: Jane Robinson
Art Direction by: Marianne Ford, Len Huntingford
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: October 4, 1985