At BFI Southbank in November 2011
The British Empire was often portrayed on film as an exotic playground for tales of adventure and derring-do until the 1950s when political intrigue and social drama crept into the safari-suited swagger. BFI Southbank explores the way British Cinema marked the End of Empire with a season of screenings and special events.
Highlights of the season include well known feature classics like Zulu (USA 1963), rarer gems such Windom’s Way (1957) and a new print from the BFI National Archive of The Planter’s Wife (1952). Each screening will be accompanied by short films that illustrate the fraught political climate of the Empire during its final moments.
The screening of Man Of Africa (1953) on Fri 11 Nov will be followed by a special Q&A with the film’s director Cyril Frankel. And on Wed 9 Nov we’ll be welcoming actor Earl Cameron, who starred with Dirk Bogarde and Virginia McKenna in Simba (1955), to give an extended introduction to the film.
The season coincides with the release in November of two books published by BFI/Palgrave entitled Empire & Film and Film and the End of Empire
From the earliest days of cinema, filmmakers were fascinated with the British Empire. A fertile source of mystery, pageantry and adventure, British Cinema revelled in showing domestic audiences exotic images from the Empire. But the films rarely strayed from an imperialist agenda. Often one-sided and fiercely patriotic, the documentaries, features and news films from this era contain repeated images of representation that are very problematic.
After World War II, with spirits high and cinemas full, British film resumed its love affair with the colonies, rediscovering the glamour of the British Empire in the glow of a new national optimism. With a heady blend of colourful vistas, wild beasts, dangerous escapades and torrid romances, the Empire was a veritable Jewel in the Crown for post-war filmmaking exploits.
In the mid-1950s, however, it became increasingly apparent that the British Empire was changing. Crowd-pleasing imperial adventures such as Where No Vultures Fly (1951) and The Planter’s Wife (1952) morphed into darker, more politically engaged thrillers. A new liberal perspective emerged in the screenplays, recounting the challenges facing colonies as they moved towards independence. Matinee idol Dirk Bogarde could suddenly be found confronting Mau Mau in Simba (1955) while Peter Finch negotiated between armed rebels and autocrats in Windom’s Way (1957). Hollywood’s Ava Gardener struggled with ethnic identity at Bhowani Junction (1956) and John Grierson presented the crisis of re-settlement from a Ugandan perspective in Man of Africa (1953).
After the Suez crisis in 1956, Britain’s diminished colonial power was exposed. The films that followed reflected Britain’s new international position with different approaches to Empire legacy. The first, epitomised by Zulu, eschewed the difficult problems that faced the dying Empire by focusing on historic military spectacle. Others couldn’t shake the sense of colonial responsibility that first emerged in the ‘End of Empire’ period. Typified by Guns At Batasi (1964), these films carried the debate into the new Commonwealth era.
This season has emerged in collaboration with colonialfilm.org, a joint project by the BFI, UCL and Imperial War Museum to digitise the BFI and IWM collections of colonial film. We’re very pleased to accompany each feature film with a short documentary selected from this collection.
UK-USA 1963. Dir Cy Endfield. With Stanley Baker, Michael Caine, Jack Hawkins, James Booth. 133min. Digital. PG
How a British Bull-Dog Saved the Union Jack
(UK 1906. Walturdaw Company. 6mins. Silent)
Thu 3 Nov 18:30 NFT1
Where No Vultures Fly
UK 1951. Dir Harry Watt. With Dinah Sheridan, Meredith Edwards, William Simons. 107min. U
Plus Spotlight on the Colonies
(UK 1950. Dir Diana Pine. 11 min)
Fri 4 Nov 14:00 NFT2
Tue 8 Nov 20:40 NFT2
The Planter’s Wife
UK 1952. Dir Ken Annakin. With Claudette Colbert, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Steel, Peter Asher. 91min. PG
Plus, Alien Orders
(UK 1951. Crown Film Unit. 11min)
Fri 4 Nov 20:40 NFT2*
Sun 6 Nov 16:00 NFT2
*Introduced by Dylan Cave
Seniors’ Free Talk: End of Empire
Dylan Cave, curator of this month’s End of Empire season, presents an illustrated talk about the feature films made during the final years of the British Empire.
This event is free for the over-60s: otherwise tickets are available at normal matinee price.
Followed by a screening of Where No Vultures Fly on Fri 4 Nov 14:00
Fri 4 Nov 11:00 NFT2
UK 1955. Dir Brian Desmond Hurst. With Donald Sinden, Orlando Martins. 99min. 12A
Plus, Mau Mau
(South Africa 1954. Dir Donald Swanson. 19min)
Sat 5 Nov 18:20 NFT2
Wed 9 Nov 18:10 NFT2*
*Introduction by Earl Cameron
Man of Africa
UK 1953. Dir: Cyril Frankel With Frederick Bijurenda, Violet Mukabureza Narrated by Gordon Heath 74 min
Introduced by Dylan Cave. Following the screening we are pleased to welcome director Cyril Frankel who celebrates his 90th birthday in December.
Fri 11 Nov 18:10 NFT3
USA 1956. Dir George Cukor. With Bill Travers, Freda Jackson, Francis Matthews, Lionel Jeffries. 109min. 12A
Plus, Indian Background
(UK 1946. Crown Film Unit 9min) Social life and politics in India on the eve of independence.
Thu 17 Nov 18:20 NFT1
Sat 19 Nov 20:40 NFT3
UK 1957. Dir Ronald Neame. With Natasha Parry, Robert Flemying, Michael Hordern. 108min. PG
Plus, The Knife
(Malaysia 1952. Dir Ow Kheng Law. 9min)
Mon 21 Nov 20:40 NFT2
Wed 30 Nov 18:10 NFT2*
* Introduced by Dylan Cave
Guns at Batasi
UK-USA 1964. Dir John Guillermin. With Flora Robson, John Leyton, Mia Farrow. 105min. PG
Plus, Giant in the Sun
(Nigeria 1959. Dir Sidney W. Samuelson. 21min)
Thu 24 Nov 20:30 NFT3
Tue 29 Nov 18:00 NFT3
Further information available from www.bfi.org.uk/southbank