This is the first ever Shakespearean film, long thought to be lost - its nature previously the subject of much speculation. It derives from the Her Majesty’s Theatre production of King John, which opened on 20 September 1899 with Herbert Beerbohm Tree, actor-manager of the theatre, in the title role.
Once believed to show the Magna Carta scene, it in fact shows King John’s speech from final scene of the play (‘Ay, marry, now my soul hath elbow-room’).
The cast is understood to include (as well as Tree as King John), Dora Senior as Prince Henry, F.M. Paget as Bigot and James Fisher as Pembroke.
This surviving fragment contains only one scene, although the original presented four scenes and ran four minutes in duration.
It was filmed in September 1899 at the film company’s open-air studio, using a 68mm camera that lends a ‘widescreen’ effect which would have wowed audiences of the day.
Footage is presented courtesy of EYE Film Institute Netherlands.