The Mock Turtle (voiced by Alan Bennett) is crying by the seashore, and the Gryphon (Fulton Mackay) is not impressed with his tears, so when Alice (Amelia Shankley) appears and asks what is wrong, neither of them can give her a good answer and the conversation turns to the Turtle's schooldays. But Alice was not a little Victorian girl anymore, she was an eighty-year-old woman (Coral Browne), and the year was 1932; she was travelling on an ocean liner to New York City as part of the celebrations for Lewis Carroll's centenary...
Lewis Carroll being the man who wrote Alice in Wonderland, of course, and the subject of some latter day fascination for his strange lifestyle and liking for little girls. Scripted by Dennis Potter, this took a modern look at the writer, and as the drama progressed moved through various phases of how we should regard Carroll, or the Reverend Charles Dodgson as Alice knew him. Played by Ian Holm, nobody here seemed very sure if he should be seen as a literary genius, a rather pathetic and lonely figure, or an outright creepy bastard whose predelictions were less than healthy and prevented him from a fulfilling adult life.
This could be eighties revisionism in action, but they had a point as Dodgson was an odd fellow, so fittingly this was an odd film, rather too carefully constructed in the manner that it could verge on the stuffy and academic, but then pulling it back from the brink of that with a scene which pushed at the themes it brought up, worrying at both what kind of a man the author was and what effect it would have on Alice as she grew up and passed into immortality thanks to her featuring in the books of the doting writer. Helping were some outright fantasy sequences courtesy of Jim Henson's Creature Workshop, making this one of the most obscure projects they ever worked on.
The puppets of the novel's characters were notable for eschewing anything remotely cuddly, lending them a scrappy, almost nightmarish quality far removed from the children's novels which were their source, as if to state this was not for children at all, another aspect of the wariness towards Dodgson exhibited throughout. The sequences from the thirties depicted Alice as a priggish old woman, unwilling to allow for her celebrity in brash America and overbearing towards her younger companion Lucy (Nicola Cowper), a construct for the movie who brings her to see that she should give into the demands of her renown, basically lighten up a bit, which she does but not before many moments of reflection.
With Potter's screenplay flitting backwards and forwards through time, it was another example of his ambition, and if not as accomplished as his television classics it displayed many of his idiosyncrasies, such as his particular view of the whims of children. To enhance that, the Dodgson character was seen as one of his damaged people, repressed and barely hiding all sorts of neuroses, again a very eighties take on a noted literary figure, and to an extent doing the man down, taking away any innocence that might have been in his personality until the very end, where he is brought to a sort of peace though not before he is put through the emotional wringer for his fondness for little girls. The film didn't come out and proclaim him to be a paedophile, but that was bubbling under the surface of a sickly examination of his eccentricities, rather typical of the approaching era where everyone has to raise suspicions about everyone else. For that reason purists might not get on with Dreamchild, and others might be left pondering if they had a point or not. Music by Stanley Myers.