Things to Come - An Incomplete Classic

Adapted by H.G.Wells himself from his 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come, Alexander Korda's film of Things to Come was a vast production.  Made four years before the start of World War II, it predicts an unprovoked attack on Great Britain - as represented by the city of Everytown - by European forces, the decades of conflict that follows,  a descent of the population into neo-Mediaevalism, and the final dawning of an advanced and ordered world run by a scientific elite.  The script - or "Film Story" - was published by The Cressett Press late in 1935.  Director William Cameron Menzies' final cut was 130 minutes long, but this was reduced to 113m for the British and continental release, and the film premiered at Leicester Square in February 1936.  According to contemporary records of British film releases, it was reissued in 1943 with a quoted 2931 feet of the original film cut.  This would seem to apply to the original pre-release length of 132m, as it would represent just over 40 minutes of footage.  The version that currently exists in wide circulation is 92 minutes long.  Maltin's TV Movies and Video Guide quotes this length, but notes that, "some prints of the original 113m version still exist."  Despite this, when the film was screened by BBC2 in 1985 after being unseen for many years, the print supplied by the original makers, London Films, was the 92m version, which runs to just under 89m due to the inherent speeding up when 24 frames-per-second film is transferred to the 25fps UK TV/video standard. All subsequent BBC and (latterly) Channel 4 screenings have been this version.  Similarly, when Pickwick Video released the film on VHS on behalf of Central Video in 1987, despite the packaging claiming a 108m running time (i.e. the 113m version "speeded up" as expected), it was again the 92m print.  In reply to an enquiry from the author, Pickwick speculated that: "It would appear in view of the age of the film that the original nitrate negative was not of good enough quality to make a video master and therefore this version was issued, which [we] understand was the only film version ever issued."

So, with more than twenty minutes missing from the initially released print, and almost forty minutes from the original director's cut, just what has been lost?  Close reference to the two published scripts, photographs from missing sections, and existing "rogue" prints, shows how the film was edited down to the form it exists in now.  Many scenes have lost their beginnings and ends, some have been shuffled around, and others - such as the Boss' victory banquet shown here (right) - have been removed entirely from what is regarded as the "official" version currently distributed by London Films.  The first part of the film, dealing with the pre-war life of Everytown, is largely intact, although one or two key illustrative pieces are missing.  It is difficult to gauge the cuts to the section covering the War itself, and the "pestilence years" which follow, but the subsequent portrayal of Everytown under a "Patriot Chief" and the later rebuilding stage have been heavily trimmed.  Finally, the New World of 2036 has been so abridged that the second of two roles played by Margaretta Scott - that of Rowena, wife of Council leader Oswald Cabal (Raymond Massey) - is entirely missing, even though she is cerdited with both roles on screen!  Numerous stills of Rowena, however, do exist, and while the one reproduced below left appears to be a wardrobe test shot, the one on the right feature the same costume in which she appears in other phtographs together with Oswald Cabal, the only other character in the scene in which she appears.
Possible costume-test for Margaretta Scott as Rowena?   Margaretta Scott as Rowena, as filmed?

When completed, this site will include a full reproduction of the published script, annotated and illustrated with reference to the surviving versions of the film, both "official" and "unofficial."

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