This programme is part of the Centenary Celebrations at the Picture House which opened in July 1921. And Saturday September 4th sees a screening of the delightful comedy drama The Smallest Show on Earth in its original 35mm format; (the film starts at 5 p.m.). This is a production of many talents from British Lion: produced by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder and directed by Basil Dearden from a script by William Rose and John Eldridge. All of these are key contributors to the British cinema of the 1950s.
The ‘Smallest Show’ takes place in the Bijou Kinema. Its new owners are Jean and Matt Spencer (Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers). The Bijou is an exterior facade in Kilburn and an interior set at Shepperton Studio. But Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography and Oswald Hafenrichter’s editing creates a believable “flea pit” that resembles some of the fine surviving cinemas from the 1920s. This atmospheric venue comes with three equally archaic but engaging staff. Percy Quill (Peter Sellers) is the projectionist lovingly caring for a machine out of the early 1900s: Old Tom (Bernard Miles) is the commissionaire, still with a regal uniform that I remember from my youth: and Mrs Fazackalee (Margaret Rutherford) is cashier and bookkeeper. Among the memorable lines in the film is her explanation of how they handle the period’s Entertainment Tax.
In a sequence approaching time travel we view an after hours film show with Quill projecting a classic silent film whilst Mrs Fazackalee accompanies on the piano. Intriguingly for the audience on Saturday the silent film clip is from Cecil Hepworth’s 1923 ‘Comin’ thro the Rye’ starring Alma Taylor. Later in the centenary people can enjoy full-length film by this pair: Helen of Four Gates (1920).
This is a genuine British classic offering eighty minutes of pleasure for first-time viewers and those revisiting the film. For the latter I should reassure them that the Picture House is more commodious than the Bijou and that the former’s 35mm projector is more up-to-date and in better condition that that of the latter.