Episode 2:

Charlie Chaplin,
the immigrant

How experience turned to empathy

Hundreds of thousands of people from Europe, especially Great Britain, made the perilous crossing to America around the turn of the 20th Century. Possibly one of the most famous of all those on the passenger lists was a young Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin. His trip across the Atlantic inspired his standout performance in his film, The Immigrant.

In episode two of It’s About Time, Sir Tony Robinson looks at the conditions immigrants like Charlie Chaplin faced. He recalls their hopes and dreams and the harsh realities of a new life in America. As you would expect from a man with a pedigree of comedy performances, Sir Tony focuses on how Chaplin drew inspiration from the immigrant experience.

As Chaplin himself said, “The Immigrant touched me more than any film I’ve made.” Yet it was also one of his funniest films. Perhaps because he understood the role like no other and his audience shared the same experiences.

Funnily enough, The Immigrant was never supposed to be about a boat crossing at all. It was supposed to just be about lunch. In particular, the hardship the protagonist faced in simply trying to buy a plate of beans – a role played by Chaplin’s famous Little Tramp. Yet, the film needed a backstory and a prior love interest was the obvious choice.

As Sir Tony explores how the two characters meet, we hear how a chance encounter lead to another chance encounter. It all comes together in an epic story experienced by millions and retold here in episode two of It’s About Time.


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