Early British cinema is truly a lost world. A fair number of names from the American silent cinema still resound (Chaplin, Keaton, D W Griffith and quite a few more remain famous), but who has heard of Chrissie White, Henry Edwards or Lilian Hall-Davies? One insurmountable problem for critics trying to reassess these figures and their films is that, as Matthew Sweet says, ‘80 per cent of films shot in these islands between the death of Queen Victoria and the Wall Street Crash [have] been junked’. There may be lost treasures, although one can hardly imagine that The Smuggler’s Daughter of Anglesey and The Belle of Betws-y-Coed were among them.
Somehow fittingly, the first major British film star was a dog named, in his off-stage life, Blair. He seems to have spent most of his time in front of the camera, making a string of wonderful-sounding movies from Rescued by Rover (1905) to The Dog and the Desperadoes (1913).