A few weeks ago I introduced a screening of this little known film at the Kennington Bioscope’s ‘Silent Cinema Weekend’ at the Cinema Museum in London.
The Garden of Resurrection stars a couple who are barely remembered today but who were, for a brief period in the late 1910s and early 1920s, the darlings of the British film industry and arguably British cinema’s biggest stars. Guy Newall and Ivy Duke each had impressive independent careers before they met and formed their winning partnership. Duke was an established stage actress, appearing regularly in the light musical confections associated with George Edwardes’ Gaiety Theatre. Here she is, ‘as clever as she is beautiful’ in a typical piece from The Tatler publicising her appearance in The Maid of the Mountains at Daly’s theatre in Leicester Square.
Guy Newall had already made the transition to cinema as early as 1915, appearing in the series of films produced and directed by Maurice Elvey under the ‘Diploma’ brand which Elvey had set up in order to showcase his woman of the moment, Elizabeth Risdon. Newall doesn’t seem to be the romantic lead in these films (that honour went to Fred Groves) – rather he plays mischievous brothers and lesser comic characters. When ‘Diploma’ folded he continued to work with Elvey, starring in two comedy shorts as ‘The Reverend Cuthbert Cheese’, reviving a comic character he had established on stage two years previously, and then in Elvey’s well known post-war drama produced for Stoll, Comradeship (1919).
In 1919 Newall and Duke joined forces with the producer George Clarke to create ‘Lucky Cat’ films, and between 1919 and 1923 this trio would make a remarkable fifteen feature films together, twelve of them starring Newall and Duke as the principle romantic couple. The early films were directed by Arthur Rooke and Kenelm Foss. Later around 1920 the company changed its name to ‘George Clarke Productions’, moved to a specially built studio at Beaconsfield and Newall increasingly took on the writing and directing roles, as well as starring alongside Duke. The films were distributed by Stoll – the largest renter in the UK at this time.
Rachel Low suggests that Lucky Cat was launched with the idea that the films would be ‘very, very English’, and that some of their later productions showcased the ‘English countryside of the twenties in a way that Hepworth talked about but failed to achieve.’ ‘Refined’, ‘charming’, ‘tasteful’, ‘elegant’ are all adjectives she employs to describe the couple and their films before putting the boot in and suggesting that they weren’t much liked by ‘showmen’. The films though were extremely successful, and in the sustained publicity which offered Newall and Duke as the ideal couple (they were married in 1923) has resonances in today’s celebrity culture. Perhaps today they’d be nicknamed ‘Guyvy’.
Typical of the emphasis on their tasteful refinement is a comment in the Times review of The Garden of Resurrection, which notes that Ivy Duke ‘has one drunken scene which might easily have been offensive, but she plays it with marked discretion.’ When the Imperial War Museum launched their first big public exhibition at Crystal Palace, they attempted to attract patrons by throwing a ‘Victory Carnival and Ball’ in September 1920. George Clarke Productions sponsored a competition for the ‘best dresses worn by ladies and gentlemen respectively which suggested well-known film stars’. And of course, their star couple were on hand to award the prizes.
They can be seen milking the ‘perfect couple’ image in this charming Pathe Pictorial short from the late 1920s – the 1933 date offered by YouTube here must be erroneous though, because – well – they actually divorced in 1929.
A Rest Cure Film
A reasonable number of their films survive in the BFI National Archive, and several have been screened at the British Silent Film Festival over the years, including Fox Farm from the novel by Warwick Deeping about the romance between a gypsy girl and a blinded farmer, Boy Woodburn from the novel by Alfred Oliphant about a lady horse trainer and her romance with a penniless banker, and Maid of the Silver Sea from the novel by John Oxenham about romance and murder in a Breton fishing community (actually filmed on Sark). Perhaps the most widely seen is The Lure of Crooning Water which immediately followed, and can be seen in many ways as a partner to The Garden of Resurrection. Both were directed by Arthur Rooke, and they were made back to back in 1919. Both are also films about ‘rest cures’. In the Lure of Crooning Water Ivy Duke plays a London stage actress who, suffering from nervous collapse goes into the countryside for a ‘rest cure’ and amuses herself while there by seducing the married farmer (played by Newall) who has been acting as her host. The Garden of Resurrection, from the novel by E. Temple Thurston reverses this pattern – this time it is Newall who is suffering from extreme depression brought on by his sense of his own ugliness. He goes for a ‘rest cure’ visiting some friends who live surrounded idyllic garden in rural Ireland (although the film was shot in Cornwall). There he meets Ivy Duke….
‘Rest cures’ of course were fashionable at the time. Some of you may recall the brilliant short comedy on that theme from 1916, Tubby’s Rest Cure which is available on BFI Player, and which I highly recommend. George Robey, the popular comedian of the period also appeared in a film of that title, adapted from his own book of the same name. Ironically, Kinematograph Weekly reported that having directed these two films back to back, Arthur Rooke himself suffered such exhaustion that he had to go on a rest cure. And indeed in its review of The Garden of Resurrection, Kinematograph Weekly suggested that the film itself would have the calming effect of such a cure on its audiences, and would act as
A restorative, perhaps a cure, for people who have lost faith in human kindness, who are ready to believe that life is all ugly… The whole film is saturated with kindliness, purity, beauty and charm. We are indeed ‘made to forget’, but we are also made to remember – and think.
The review is pretty vague about what it is we might want to forget, but although the novel on which its based was published in 1911, it’s hard not to read the film adaptation as perhaps drawing on a mood and some themes which had particular resonance for audiences who had just been through 5 years of war.
Is Guy Newell Ugly?
The novel of The Garden of Resurrection is subtitled ‘the love story of an ugly man’, and there is quite a debate raging about whether its leading man fulfils this key requirement for the character he plays. Rachel Low, writing in 1971, didn’t mince her words, describing him as having ‘an ugly and even a misleadingly course appearance’. Newall himself recalled being warned that his face might prove a handicap by Elvey’s producer, Hurbert Shaw, ‘I had never held any particularly high opinion of my own looks, but it struck me that they would prove a severe handicap. However I think Shaw tried to let me down lightly, for what he said was, “Very good, but your face is quite homely, isn’t it?”
Reviewers at the time were more doubtful, one arguing that the plot was barely credible since it hinged on the supposed ugliness of ‘so altogether presentable a young man as Guy Newall!’, while another reviewer commented that the film’s other good qualities ‘amply compensate for the inability of the hero to look ugly, despite his tremendous facial exertions!’ Modern viewers of recent screenings of The Lure of Crooning Water have been in no doubt that whether or not he’s conventionally good looking, Guy’s pretty hot.
After the Screening
That was the introduction I gave more or less. When I wrote it I had only seen the film once – probably ten years ago in the basement of the BFI in Stephen Street. Such are the perils of researching films not freely available online or on DVD that when I sat down to watch the film again with everyone else, I squirmed in my seat each time I realized how much I’d misremembered it. It doesn’t mention rest cures at all! Although there is definitely an emphasis on the restorative nature of the eponymous garden, and there’s a sequence which indisputably implies that Guy is about to commit suicide, he isn’t sent on a rest cure as a result of this – the detail of it happens rather differently! And elements that I’d forgotten about or considered incidental sprang to the fore – the relationship of the hero to his completely seductive wire-haired terrier for one, and perhaps more importantly, the fact that Ivy Duke’s character is of mixed race, and ‘passing’ as white. In fact there is a whole Empire dimension to the film, which had me rushing home to write up some notes. Perhaps I’ll post about that another time though.
For now, if you’re interested in finding more out about Guy and Ivy, there’s an excellent short bio of them by Christine Gledhill on the BFI Screenonline site.
 ‘A Maid of the Mountains’ in The Tatler 27/2/1918, p. 275.
 Review ‘A Collection Will be Made’ in The Times 16/7/1914, p. 11.
 ‘The Film World’ in The Times, 8/12/1919, p. 18.
 The Era, 15/9/1920, p. 16.
 Kinematograph Weekly 9/10/1919, p. 111.
 Kinematograph Weekly 11/12/1919, p. 114.
 Rachael Low, The History of British Film 1918-1929 (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1971), p. 147.
 Sheffield Independent, 29/12/1920, p. 1.