The First Film





Turning history on its head, David Nicholas Wilkinson takes us on a fascinating and entertaining journey to the very beginnings of cinema.


First Film, The
Detective story: David Nicholas Wilkinson and Carol S. Ward watch the first film, Roundhay Garden Scene


It is a well-known fact that the first images ever captured on film are those of workers leaving a factory in Lyon, as captured by the Cinématographe camera in 1895, operated by Louis Lumière. However, the concept of what film is has changed so many times since the nineteenth century, that we should perhaps re-examine the facts. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the oldest surviving film in existence – albeit just 2.1l seconds long – is actually called the Roundhay Garden Scene and was shot by another Frenchman, Louis Le Prince, in October of 1888. More significantly, the scene was filmed in Leeds. However, as this fascinating documentary recounts, few people in the film industry have even heard of Le Prince.


The director, producer and presenter of The First Film, David Nicholas Wilkinson, was born in Leeds himself – he is a proud Yorkshireman – and was taught at school that his home city was the birthplace of film. However, Wilkinson refused to believe it, largely because nobody else did. But then he embarked on a thirty-year quest to get to the bottom of the story, spending seven years in bringing this film to the screen. Hopping from Le Prince’s birthplace in Metz, France, to Cannes, Paris, Leeds, London, Philadelphia and New York, he interrogates experts in cinema – as well as sundry luminaries – to illuminate his story. 


Revealing an engaging erudition and passion (Wilkinson used to be an actor), our host is an agreeable tour guide through this voyage of discovery, unveiling even sinister subplots. Just weeks before Le Prince was due to demonstrate his invention in New York, he disappeared while travelling from Dijon to Paris by train. And his body was never found. Meanwhile, the fiercely ambitious Thomas Edison was in the process of registering his own motion picture camera. And so Wilkinson’s film veers from personal crusade to detective story, always with a playful spring in its step. Anybody interested in the beginnings of the cinema should find this a most diverting – and enlightening – enterprise.




Featuring  David Nicholas Wilkinson, Tom Courtenay, Tony Earnshaw, Joe Eszterhas, Michael Harvey, Ronald Harwood, Stephen Herbert, Daniel Martin, Mick McCann, Jacques Pfend, Tony Pierce-Roberts, Mark Rance, Irfan Shah, Carol S. Ward, Adrian Wootton.


Dir David Nicholas Wilkinson, Pro David Nicholas Wilkinson, Screenplay David Nicholas Wilkinson and Irfan Shah, Ph John Adderley, Liam Ayres, David Beaumont, Jean Birckel, Giumis Carrino, Chris Fahy, Steve McAleavy, Don McVey and Nathan Page, Ed David Hughes, Music Christopher Barnett.


Guerilla Docs/Guerilla Films-Guerilla Films.

110 mins. UK/France/USA. 2015. Rel: 3 July 2015. Cert. PG.