The Magic Box
This biopic tells the story of the British inventor of motion pictures who never achieved financial rewards for his pioneering work.
In 1921 the elderly William Friese-Greene (Robert Donat) visits his separated wife Edith (Margaret Johnston) and says he has achieved color film. She recalls when she first met William.
Jack Carter (Richard Attenborough) takes Edith to William’s laboratory, and she sees his old motion-picture camera. They see each other often and get married. William works on color. They have five sons and need money. Young Graham Friese-Greene (John Charlesworth) comes home after losing a fight and cries because the encyclopedia did not mention his father’s invention. Edith realizes that William will not succeed.
In 1915 the broker’s man (Stanley Holloway) comes to seize goods for the rent. Three sons enlist and say they are 18. William pays the landlord and admits he sold his old camera. Edith cries because her boys left to save them money.
Edith says that William’s real life was before she met him. At a meeting of cinema businessmen William recalls his past.
Young William works in a darkroom and begins taking photographs. Helena (Maria Schell) shows William pictures on pages moving and urges him to experiment on his own. William criticizes his boss Guttenburg (Frederick Valk), quits, and marries Helena.
A doctor visits Helena, and William pawns his plates. A woman asks for a photo, and William gets a deposit to buy back some plates. Helena has a baby girl, and William gets customers.
William and Helena sing in the Bath chorus. He meets with the photograph inventor William Fox-Talbot (Basil Sydney) and misses the concert. Helena sings his solo. William comes home and tells her what he learned. She cries and calls him a selfish child. He says he forgot, and they move to London.
William’s photography business grows, and he experiments. People wonder where he is. His partner Arthur Collings (Eric Portman) blames William for ruining their business. William owes £1,200 and mortgages their house. William gets a new camera made. On Sunday in Hyde Park he rolls film made of celluloid. He develops the film and projects it during the night. William has a constable (Laurence Olivier) come in and look at the moving pictures. William explains how it works. He goes home and wakes up Helena to tell her it works.
William expects to be rich, but he is soon bankrupt. Helena has a heart attack, and a doctor advises her to rest. William tells her the house and studios are being sold, but Helena gets them a house with her savings.
At the cinema business meeting elderly William says it is a universal language, and he pleads with them not to destroy it but to work together. He sits down and drops dead.
This true story shows how a creative genius often needs to make sacrifices and follow one’s inner vision despite setbacks, unpopularity, and worldly failure.