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A Cottage on Dartmoor

Anthony Asquith

This screening will feature a live piano score by silent film specialist Stephen Horne and is not to be missed.

Between the late 1930s and early 1950s, Anthony Asquith gained a reputation as one of Britain’s leading filmmakers. Specialising in working with actors and dialogue, he produced superbly controlled adaptations of theatrical classics such as The Importance of Being Ernest, Pygmalion, The Winslow Boy and The Browning Version. However, there is another rather different side to him, which has only recently been rediscovered. In the late 1920s, in the last days of the silent era, he equalled Hitchcock as a brilliant, even experimental, visual storyteller. In 1929, during the transition to talkies, he made A Cottage on Dartmoor, which is both his early masterpiece and one of the great last hurrahs of silent cinema.

The story, which involves unrequited love, a crime of passion, and a prison escape, is reasonably straightforward; but it overflows with a passionate ardour that feels decidedly un-British. The same is true of the direction. From the breathless opening sequence onward the visuals are stunningly expressionistic, while the cutting uses Soviet montage techniques to striking effect. Perhaps the most telling sequence, however, is set in a cinema, where an audience is thrilled by a silent comedy and baffled by an early talky. Clearly, the young Asquith believed that words could not compete with the extraordinary and highly sophisticated vocabulary of late silent cinema – and every frame of A Cottage on Dartmoor bears him out.