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  • Warning: Spoilers
    The 1920 film 'Milestones' is a remake of a film (with the same title) made only four years earlier. This implies that the 1916 version (which I've not seen) was so awful that it vanished from the public memory in less than four years' time. This 1920 production and (apparently) the 1916 version are both based on material by Arnold Bennett. I've read most of his novels, but the source material for 'Milestones' is unfamiliar to me, so I can't say how faithfully this film adapts his work. The rest of this comment applies solely to the 1920 film, and may in some details contradict the 1916 production.

    'Milestones' has a triptych structure, being set in three separate periods: 1860, 1885 and 1910. That last is depicted in this 1920 movie as 'the present', even though many Americans and Britons in 1920 (having just emerged from the World War) were proud of their Jazz Age modernity and would object to being conflated with people from that musty era of ten years earlier.

    When a film takes place in several eras, the most effective narrative technique is to cross-cut between the historic periods, leaving each story unfinished while going on to the next. This technique was used in DW Griffith's 'Intolerance' and in Buster Keaton's 'The Three Ages', both excellent films. A far less effective method is to tell each period's story in full before moving on to the next. (This was done in 'Forever and a Day', but that film at least kept each sequence short.) Regrettably, the latter technique is used in 'Milestones', and it contributes to this movie's plodding pace.

    In 1860 we meet a pair of young lovers who hope to marry, but whose union provokes the disapproval of their respective parents. The lovers heed their parents' wishes, and separate to live unhappily ever after (apart from each other). In 1885, we see basically the mixture as before: another pair of lovers, more parental disapproval; once again the lovers heed their parents instead of following their own hearts. Unhappy endings all round.

    Dissolve to the 'modern' year 1910. Muriel Pym (played by one Correan Kirkham; who she?) is the daughter of Lord Monkhurst, and so she is styled the Honourable Muriel Pym. (That's incorrect: she would actually be styled Lady Muriel, unless she held a title in her own right. I've difficulty believing that Arnold Bennett would make this error.) Lady Muriel (as I shall cry her) falls in love with Richard Sibley (Jack Donovan), a handsome and industrious civil engineer who has a promising future but no money and no blue blood in his veins. Naturally, her father protests the marriage. Sibley's father Richard Senior (Lionel Belmore) isn't too chuffed about it either. But this being 'modern' 1910, the lovers decide to make their own way in the world, with Muriel renouncing her courtesy title.

    This is a stuffy film, due to the poor pacing and the sensation of history inevitably repeating itself. However, it has some merits. Obscure actor Carroll Fleming (who?) is excellent as the Monkhurst family's butler. Harvey Clark and Lionel Belmore give their usual understated performances. Belmore had an astounding career, appearing in movies in both Hollywood and his native Britain, and playing a wide range of roles in some major films. I was pleased that in 'Milestones' he has a conventional haircut, rather than the distracting and bizarre quiff he wore in his starring performance in Erich von Stroheim's 'Greed'.

    Character actor Lewis Stone is splendid as hard-hearted industrialist John Rhead, and I was deeply unnerved by a climactic scene in 'Milestones' when Rhead's house is stoned by radicals. This sequence is well-staged and well-directed, but I also found it unnerving because it eerily prefigures a scene in the 1936 film 'Men Must Fight' -- in which, again, Lewis Stone plays a prominent figure whose house is stoned by protesters -- and because it even more eerily predicts Lewis Stone's real-life death: in 1953, some boys threw stones at Lewis Stone's house; he chased them for several streets, then dropped dead in the gutter of a heart attack. While watching this sequence in 'Milestones', I felt as if Lewis Stone's screen character was genuinely in danger. Despite some good performances here, my rating for this film is only 5 out of 10.