Whilst I’ve seen quite a few late-period British silent films, I’ve seen very little from the early twenties (not for want of trying). Director Harold M. Shaw’s version of HG Wells’ novel is a gentle social satire that entertains whilst leaving you reading through the lines for its author’s original intentions.
Never-the-less, this is a charming, well-made film that serves as a time-capsule travelogue of Sussex and Hampshire in the days when they were opened up to cycling free spirits yet to be crowded off the highway by motor cars and heavy goods vehicles.
|George K. Arthur|
Meanwhile over in the select suburbs, a couple who are planning an altogether more elicit adventure. Jessie Milton (Olwen Roose) has been persuaded by her man-friend Bechamel (Gordon Parker) to travel with him down to his sister’s house in the Sussex town of Midhurst. Her domineering mother (Mabel Archdale) would never countenance such a venture – such things are not welcome in Surbiton - and so, the two skulk off on their bikes in the early hours…
|A question of balance...|
He chances across young Jessie and the two engage in a brief conversation – he’s impressed by her refinement: she’s no shop girl. He leaves her waiting for her male friend and a few minutes later encounters Bechamel angrily trying to fix a puncture, the young man offers to help and gets a hail of invective in response – a wonderful title card graphic hinting at the language used.
|Jessie and the bounder Bechamel|
We already suspect the man is a bounder but the full extent of Bechamel’s caddishness is soon exposed as, after re-joining Jessie, he reveals that his line about his sister was a lie and that he has booked them into an hotel as man and wife! This is shameful… "You are mine! Netted and caught - but mine!”
Meanwhile Mrs Milton has noticed Jessie’s disappearance and sets off in pursuit accompanied by three male friends who are eager to please the comfortably off widow. The portly Widgery (Judd Green) leads the way on his bike whilst the cadaverous Dangle (Wallace Bosco) and monocled Phipps (Clifford Marle) stay in close attendance with the distressed mother.
|Wallace Bosco, Clifford Marle, Mabel Archdale and Judd Green|
Jessie decides that she wants to continue her adventure and to free herself of her middle class shackles and, instinctively trusting Hoopdriver, she asks him to go with her. The young man is flattered and decides to paint an improved picture of himself, inventing a more impressive persona as Chris Carrington, colonial diamond mine owner who is considering standing for “Parleyment”…
|The game's up!|
The Wheels of Chance gives very good countryside and we are treated to lovely views of Hampshire and Sussex roads as well as the towns and villages – on through the tiny village of Wallenstock to Chichester.
Jessie’s break for freedom is also never fully explained but then perhaps that’s the point: she’s a polite rebel without a cause… just in need of distraction.
No spoilers… I won’t give away the ending as it’s less predictable than you might expect: this is more Ringwood than Hollywood.
George K Arthur is the stand-out performer investing Hoopdriver with a peculiarly-British mild heroism that sees him engage in slap-dash fist-cuffs in order to defend Jessie’s honour. He never gives up even though his self-confidence is defined by his position but maybe this adventure will ultimately give him a new direction.
The Wheels of Chance is occasionally screened round London and the print I saw could do with a clean-up and digital release… but there’s a long queue for that.