In the history of motion pictures, very few titles have had
the lasting impact and social significance of director Louis Le
Prince’s film "Roundhay Garden Scene”.
Having no previous works in the genre to build upon, Le Prince was
forced to establish many of his own techniques and storytelling
elements, which themselves were severely restrained by the limited
technology he had to work with.
The film’s premise is simple enough. The action opens with
Adolphe Le Prince, Sarah Whitley, Joseph Whitley, and Harriet Hartley,
all portraying themselves in the garden of Oakwood Grange.
Adolphe, being the director’s son, naturally was given the
lead role, walking across the scene in front of Harriet, who seems to
indifferently turn away from him throughout the course of the film,
though neither of their motivations are thoroughly explored.
The film was so focused on Aldolphe’s character that the arc
of Joseph and Sarah is hardly touched upon before the film’s
conclusion. Joseph, in his jacket, which really exhibits the attention
to detail in the costume design, was generally a much more enjoyable
character than Adolphe, and showed the potential to really steal the
show for the few who bother to notice his character.
The relationship between Joseph and Sarah, who is walking backwards
throughout the entire film, creates an air of mystery that may be
overlooked during a casual viewing of “Roundhay Garden
Scene”. Joseph’s implied affection for Sarah is
left very open ended, though their brief interaction could be seen as a
sign that Joseph’s presence will be the change in
Sarah’s life that will set her on the straight and narrow
path forward in life.
Harriet’s move toward Sarah and Joseph suggests an element of
competition between the two women for Joseph’s affection,
which due to the unnecessary focus on Adolphe, is not satisfactorily
Despite Adolphe’s unconvincingly portrayed character being
essentially unnecessary to the overall storyline, he provides a foil
for Joseph, whose disappearance behind Sarah at the end of the movie
seems to foreshadow a deeper conflict between the two men which could
have served as the basis for a sequel.
Sadly, “Roundhay Garden Scene” is a film scarred by
real life tragedy. Only ten days after filming, Sarah Whitley died and
was buried near the set. The director and cameraman Louis Le Prince
disappeared under suspicious circumstances while traveling to the
London premier of his film and was presumed to have been murdered. His
son, and featured actor Adolphe Le Prince was shot to death in his New
York apartment soon after.
In the end, “Roundhay Garden Scene” is ultimately a
bold experimental film which really set into stone the basic elements
of motion picture making, and though it no longer lives up to
today’s cinematic standards, it is a must see for all
enthusiasts of motion pictures, and with a remastered version available
to watch for free on the internet, there's simply no excuse not to see
"Roundhay Garden Scene" at least once.