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Helen of Four Gates returns

Still image from Helen of Four Gates. Black and white image of forlorn woman on Calderdale hillside with farm in the background

‘HELEN OF FOUR GATES’ at Hebden Bridge Picture House centenary celebration on Saturday. 

On Saturday 25 June is the climax of a full year of centenary events celebrating the first hundred years of Hebden Bridge Picture House with a screening of  ‘Helen of Four Gates’ with a score by composer Ben Burrows  and performed live by the highly-regarded quartet, the Treske Ensemble, a rare opportunity to experience a silent movie with such an accompaniment.    

‘Helen of Four Gates’ was the first film to be made locally and has beautiful photography of locations around Heptonstall, Widdop and Pecket Well as they would have been seen before 1920.  Producer Cecil Hepworth was established as one of the pioneers of British cinema. He had made 44 full length feature films and a string of shorts, stretching right back to the dawn of cinema.   

Originally premiered  in Hebden Bridge in February 1921, it was then lost for nearly 90 years before a 35mm was rediscovered in the vaults of the Cinematheque Quebecoise in Montreal around 2008.

The book, upon which it was based, was extremely popular.  It was published in the dark days of  World War One and it is said that it sold more books in its first year of publication than did HG Wells the same year.  

Author, Ethel Carnie Holdsworth was an accomplished  poet and novelist, who also became lost in the mists of time – a remarkable woman, now considered to be the first genuine working class woman to have had a book published. This was ‘Miss Nobody’ published 2013 and  went on to have  a long literary career, though none of her later books  would sell as well as ‘Helen’.  There are currently many universities in Britain seeking to re-establish her as a writer worthy of respect and who are encouraging their students to study her literary output.  

After the film’s rediscovery in 1988, Nick Wilding* fund-raised sufficient money  to make a copy of the 35mm reel in Canada through Hebden Bridge Picture House events between 2008 and 2010. Copyright negotiated, the silent movie was eventually installed in the British Film Institute in 2010 accessible to anyone in Britain and ‘Helen of Four Gates’ became the centrepiece of the Hebden 500 celebration the same year and the BFI permitted Hebden Bridge Picture House to premiere it first, well before its London premiere.   

*Nick Wilding is a respected filmmaker and a trustee of Friends Of Heptonstall Museum