Raymond Longford and Lottie Lyell

The Romantic Story of Margaret Catchpole
R: Raymond Longford. K: Arthur Higgins. D: Lottie Lyell, Raymond Longford, Augustus Neville. P: Spencer’s Pictures. AUS 1911
Print: National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA)

“The story opens with a May festival, during which Margaret Carrington is crowned Queen of the May. The rival lovers, a lieutenant in the army and a smuggler chief, meet Margaret, and she is compelled to choose between them. She chooses Morgan, the smuggler chief, and in a battle between the soldiers and the smugglers she persuades the lieutenant to let Morgan go free. The lieutenant resigns his commission and leaves for Australia. The soldiers are close on the track of the smugglers. A traitor in the smuggler band sends a false message to Margaret and signs the note “Morgan.” In this note Margaret is told to come to a certain rendezvous. She steals a horse for this purpose, and is captured. Little seven-year-old Marjorie, in a thrilling horseback ride across country, carries a note to Morgan. Morgan goes to Margaret’s assistance, rescues her, and she goes with Morgan to join the smugglers. Among the picturesque scenes along the coasts, arrangements are made for the marriage of Morgan and Margaret. Before the priest can pronounce the final words the soldiers enter the smugglers’ cave, and there is a pitched battle between the smugglers and the soldiers. Morgan is killed, Margaret is captured and sentenced to death. Sentence is afterward commuted to the convict colony in Australia. Six months later we see Margaret in Australia as matron of the children’s hospital. Here she meets the former applicant for her hand, the lieutenant, who is now an officer in the government service. Through his influence Margaret is pardoned, and finally becomes the lieutenant’s bride.”

“Although only a few of his films are extant, Raymond Longford is recognized as the leading director of the early Australian cinema. For most of his career, he worked in partnership with actress Lottie Lyell. So closely were their lives and careers intertwined that any serious attempt to evaluate their separate contributions must first take into account their work as a creative team. Their common dedication to cinematic naturalism had a profound effect on filmmaking in Australia. (…)
Film production was booming in Australia in 1911 when Longford acted in three films for Spencer’s Pictures in Sydney. He soon graduated to director with The Fatal Wedding (1911). Adapted by Longford from a popular stage melodrama in which he had toured with Lyell the year before, it was filmed in a local artist’s studio with the roof removed to allow light from the sun. Lyell recreated her stage role, and Arthur Higgins served as cinematographer (and would continue to do so for the majority of Longford’s productions).
Longford’s next film was one of the most popular Australian films of the period, The Romantic Story of Margaret Catchpole (1911). Dramatizing the true story of an Englishwoman who was transported to Australia for horse stealing in 1801, the film gave Lyell in the title role an excellent opportunity to demonstrate her athleticism, especially the riding skills for which she would become famous. Longford followed up this success with a number of other films displaying Lyell’s ability as an equestrienne. Often, she portrayed that distinctively Australian heroine, the girl of the bush who was a man’s equal in courage and resourcefulness.”
William M. Drew
Gilda Tabarez