In the very early days of silent film, France and Italy were the big hitters in the industry, with British filmmakers struggling to compete. In the 1st April 1909 issue of The Bioscope, the editor welcomed a production that could challenge that status quo:
We are anxious to express our congratulations to Messrs. Williamson upon the magnificent film which they published this week under the title of “The Tower of London.” It may be that it is not an ideal film in every respect, and it may be that for some people its length will be rather a drawback, but we have no hesitation in saying that Messrs. Williamson have done a great service to the English trade in publishing this film. It has been for so long a reproach to the English manufacturers that they were afraid to spend money on staging their productions, and that they would not, or could not, compete with the Continental houses, that a bold effort like this is to be welcomed. The film is a dramatic one, founded, as explained on another page, on Harrison Ainsworth’s novel, and it is full of stirring scenes. The main point we wish to emphasise here, however, is the care and attention to detail that have been lavished on the production. The first scene of the State entry of Lady Jane Grey is played in surroundings that, if we were not assured to the contrary, we should have vowed were actually within the precincts of the Tower. Other scenes are played out in and around a magnificent building which dates from the times in which the story is laid, and the historical detail of the costumes and mounting is almost unexceptionable. In the first scene also, the producer has been allowed a free hand in regard to the number of supers, and the result is that instead of a “crowd” of a dozen people which is the usual feature of a film manufactured in England, there are some seventy or eighty people on the stage at once. “The Tower of London” is a striking achievement, and we trust that Messrs. Williamson will be encouraged by its reception to undertake further work on the same scale. It will be a good day for the English film trade if “The Tower of London” is a big success.
The length of the film is mentioned as a drawback, so just to get some perspective on that IMDB have the film listed as 525 metres of 35mm film stock. That works out at somewhere around 20 minutes running time. The company that produced the film was the Williamson Kinematograph Company, who were obviously quite prolific, as IMDB have 280 entries for them. The company was founded by film pioneer James Williamson. The Tower of London was not really the springboard to creating many more high-budget films that the Bioscope was hoping for. Just one year later, in 1910, the company produced its final film, but that was not the end of Williamson’s career. During the first war, his company produced gun-mounted reconnaissance cameras and photo finish cameras for horse racing, among other wide ranging achievements.
Williamson most famous film is probably The Big Swallow from 1901, which only runs for just over one minute, and really just does what it says on the tin. The image above shows some frames from the film. The use of extreme close-up was innovative at the time. RP