Lottie Lyell
Stories & Ideas

Wed 25 Jan 2023

Lottie Lyell, Australia’s First Film Star

Film Melbourne Cinémathèque Retrospective
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Melbourne Cinémathèque

Australia's longest-running film society

Notes for the 20 September 2023 Melbourne Cinémathèque program.

The collaboration between Lottie Lyell (1890–1925) and Raymond Longford (1878–1959) is one of the most significant in Australian film. Although her onscreen credits don’t reflect the varied roles she played as sometimes lead actor, screenwriter, art director, producer, editor and co-director, the partnership between Lyell and Longford was truly equal. The pair collaborated on 28 films and Lyell received official credit as a screenwriter on almost half, co-director on The Blue Mountains Mystery (1921) and lead actor until ill-health forced her off screen in the early 1920s.

It is one of the great tragedies of early Australian cinema that so little filmic evidence of their partnership survives. Lyell and Longford started their work together in theatre before Lyell’s breakthrough success in An Englishman’s Home in 1910. They both quickly entered the burgeoning feature-film industry, completing their first collaborations in 1911 (The Fatal Wedding and The Romantic Story or Margaret Catchpole). Lyell soon went on to became Australia’s first true film star. While it is difficult to properly assess Lyell’s overall achievements, her performances in The Woman Suffers (1918), and as Doreen in the landmark The Sentimental Bloke (1919), highlight her remarkable control as well as the subtlety of her acting style. Always struggling against the competitive advantage held by American and British film interests, Lyell and Longford’s work – including definitive screen versions of the work of C. J. Dennis and Steele Rudd’s Dad and Dave – is a proud landmark of Australian filmmaking. This program presents most of the surviving footage (including the entire The Sentimental Bloke) featuring Lyell and represents a tantalising taste of this extraordinary collaboration.


Lottie Lyell, Australia’s First Film Star

The Sentimental Bloke (1919) – Wed 20 Sep, 7pm
The Woman Suffers (1918) – Wed 20 Sep, 9.05pm

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Melbourne Cinémathèque

Australia's longest-running film society, Melbourne Cinémathèque screens significant works of international cinema in the medium they were created, the way they would have originally screened.

Melbourne Cinémathèque is self-administered, volunteer-run, not-for-profit and membership-driven. 

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