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Ninety-year-old silent film comes home to Hebden Bridge
Still from Helen of Four Gates
Helen of Four Gates is a hard-hitting silent film shot around Hebden Bridge

A silent film which was originally shot near Hebden Bridge in 1920 is to be screened in the town for the first time in 90 years.

In fact, it is thought this will be the first place in Britain to see Helen of Four Gates since its original release.

The film is considered to be a silent classic and was directed by early moving picture pioneer Cecil Hepworth.

Hebden Bridge filmmaker Nick Wilding says: "It is a very important film in the history of motion pictures."

Nick, who also describes himself as an amateur film archivist, has spent many hours in negotiation trying to secure the film's showing in Hebden Bridge.

He believes Helen of Four Gates is a unique film by an equally unique director: "Cecil Hepworth was a very important figure in relation to the cinema. He was a pioneer.

"He was making films between 1896 and 1924 and he did all sorts of amazing things at a very early stage. He explored many of the different kinds of films that came later and he was the first one to do them."

Nick Wilding at Hebden Bridge Picture House
Nick Wilding is the fan who masterminded the film's return

Helen of Four Gates is based on a novel by former mill girl Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, who herself lived in nearby Heptonstall in the 1920s. It stars Alma Taylor, perhaps one of the world's first true film stars, in the title role.

Nick explains that it is not the usual sort of film one might associate with the silent movie era: "Helen is treated very badly by all the men in her life and there are some shocking scenes in the film where one of them is actually whipping her.

"Who knows what this must have seemed like in 1920 to those audiences who were more used to seeing Charlie Chaplin?"

With scenes featuring the countryside around Hebden Bridge in 1920, the film is being shown as part of HB500 - a whole series of events celebrating the 500th birthday of the stone packhorse bridge after which the town is named.

Nick believes it was Ethel Carnie Holdsworth who convinced Cecil Hepworth to use Hebden Bridge as a location for filming: "She took Hepworth up the moor. He writes in his autobiography about being taken there.

"They went over to Haworth and saw all the places connected with the Brontës. He had a good look around and decided where he was going to film.

"In fact, one of the locations is Lumb Falls - a lovely beauty spot which people still visit today."

Hopefully when the audience hear the string quartet and see the film they will disappear into a different world for a couple of hours.
Nick Wilding, filmmaker

While Cecil Hepworth was an early British cinema pioneer, it wasn't long after the release of Helen of Four Gates that things went very wrong for him.

According to Nick, the director overreached himself building a huge studio complex at his home on Walton-on-Thames. After going bankrupt in 1924 most of his films ended up being melted down for their silver nitrate content.

That, says Nick, explains why copies of Hepworth's films are now so rare and why this is such a special event for the audience in Hebden Bridge.

He says: "It is a very sad story and there are only, I think, about three surviving copies of his full length films and one or two of them are in very poor condition

"But what we have here is a film that appears to be in pretty good condition and one that was considered lost."

Nick says he is very much looking forward to seeing the film after a protracted series of transatlantic negotiations involving Cecil Hepworth's daughter, the late Valerie Williamson, as well as the British Film Institute - both of whom, Nick says, have been "immensely influential" on bringing this special event about.

Hebden Bridge Picture House
Hebden Bridge Picture House is the venue for this special event

The hope is that the film's showing, which will take place at the Hebden Bridge Picture House on Thursday 10 June, will be accompanied by music from a live orchestra.

Nick says he hopes film fans in Hebden Bridge will really enjoy a little trip back in time via the silver screen: "Everybody's used to going into cinemas with comfortable chairs and a place for your popcorn, but this is the real McCoy.

"It's a wonderful place but hopefully when the audience hear the string quartet and see this film they will disappear into a different world for a couple of hours."

Helen of Four Gates will be shown at Hebden Bridge Picture House on the evening of 10 June 2010. Visit the Picture House website for the latest details. To find out more about what's going on to celebrate Hebden Bridge 500 in 2010, click here.

Hebden Bridge's 500th birthday
23 Mar 10 |  History


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