The sex lives of the upper classes come under scrutiny in this tour de force of late silent British cinema.
A philandering politician, the double standards of the upper classes, jealousy, miscegenation and a generation torn between centuries of tradition and a more modern morality... the plot of The First Born feels not unlike a lost episode of Downton Abbey. However, the film was expertly co-scripted by Alma Reville (Mrs Alfred Hitchcock) and it's hard not to see her influence in raising it beyond old-school melodrama to be a tour de force of late silent British cinema. Sir Hugo Boycott (Miles Mander) and his young bride (a pre-blonde Madeleine Carroll) have a passionate relationship, but it founders when she fails to produce an heir. This is a surprisingly 'adult' film and made with both elegance and invention. Particularly surprising among Mander's sometimes Hitchcockian box of visual tricks is a handheld camera sequence that allows the audience to become voyeur as Boycott stalks the marital bedroom to find his wife in the bath. The story is oddly reflected in reality: the 'first born' is played by Mander's own son and it was well known that the leads were involved romantically - well enough known to bring Mander's wife to the set to demand an explanation. This major new restoration by the BFI National Archive includes reinstated missing footage and the reintroduction of a beautiful range of tints.
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