For the launch of The Space we chose to showcase a mini-festival of first or early films by major British directors, from the BFI National Archive. Together they offer a fascinating insight into the filmic and narrative worlds of six diverse film makers: the earliest dating from 1958 and the most recent from 1996. Peter Maniura, Launch Curator, The Space.
AMELIA AND THE ANGEL
(Copyright British Film Institute)
Amelia and the Angel was Ken Russell’s second short film. Made on a tiny budget and funded by the BFI’s Experimental Film Fund. It immediately revealed his distinctive, iconoclastic talent.
Written, directed and shot by Russell (with costumes designed by his wife and long-time collaborator Shirley Russell), this film is a mixture of religious allegory and magical fantasy that bears many of the hallmarks and themes of his later work, including Russell’s interest in dance (he trained in classical ballet).
It tells the story of a young girl (played by Mercedes Quadros, the vivacious nine-year-old daughter of the Uruguayan ambassador to London of the time) who is about to play the role of an angel in her school nativity play, when her brother runs off with her treasured wings, eventually returning them battered and torn beyond repair.
Amelia then embarks on a desperate attempt to find a new pair of wings, undertaking an allegorical journey of sin and redemption. The film so impressed Huw Wheldon, producer of the BBC’s arts documentary strand Monitor, that he offered Russell his first professional film-making job.
Russell went on to enjoy a high-profile career in cinema, gaining an Oscar nomination for his DH Lawrence adaptation Women In Love (1969).
He also made controversial film The Devils, which on its release in 1971 was cut before it could be given an adult X certificate.
Ken Russell died at the age of 84 in November 2011.