London Film Festival Archive Gala: instant expert

The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927)
The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927)

Name: The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927).

Age: 87 years old. The clue’s in the number in brackets.

Appearance: Shiny and new.

Sorry, that doesn’t make sense – I thought you said it was 87 years old. The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands may be knocking on a bit, but it has been lovingly restored by the BFI and from what we gather, it’s looking pretty damn sharp. Just take a look at these stills.

Great, where can I see this beautiful old thing? At the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 16 October 2014 – it’s being shown at the London Film Festival as the Archive Gala. It will then be released in cinemas nationwide, and simultaneously on the BFIPlayer …

Blimey. And then it will be coming out on a BFI DVD.

Wonderful news, I’ll tell all my friends. Really?

No. I’ve never heard of it. Fair enough. You could have said that in the first place.

I was shy. Don’t worry, the BFI calls it a “virtually unknown film” on its website.

Phew. But you should have heard of the director, Walter Summers.

Rings a bell … He’s a Brit. Or he was, rather. And he was quite prolific, working in both the silent and sound eras. “I didn’t wait for inspiration,” he once said. “I was a workman, I worked on the story until it was finished. I had a time limit you see. We made picture after picture after picture.”

The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927)
The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927)

He never stopped! Well, he did take a break early in his film career – during the first world war.

He fought? Yes indeed, and war films were his speciality. This film, The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands, is very highly regarded.

Really? Who says? At the time, the Guardian’s CA Lejeune described it as: “‘without question the best motion picture that a British director has ever made”. She also compared it to Metropolis, La Roue and Battleship Potemkin.

Oh the critics … who else liked it? It was a box-office smash! And George V had a private screening at Balmoral.

If it’s good enough for the King. Quite. And The BFI’s Bryony Dixon calls it: “a thrillingly accurate recreation of the events 100 years ago of the first major battle at sea of the First World War between Germany and Britain”.

How accurate, exactly? Well, I wasn’t at the original battle so I can’t rightly say. But the Admiralty did co-operate with the production – real Royal Navy ships were used, and no models or trick photography.

Did they film in the Falklands? Don’t be Scilly – it’s Cornwall. Though they shot the seascapes off the shores of Malta.

The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927)
The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927)

Very funny. Now, these Archive Galas usually have live music don’t they? Who’s playing for this one, the Royal Marine Band? Yup.

That is impressive.  Should be. And moving too. Twenty-four members of the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines will accompany the gala screening, in honour of the 24 members of the band who lost their lives with the sinking of HMS Monmouth at the battle of Coronel itself in 1914.

Wow. Green Berets at the Queen Elizabeth Hall? I daren’t tell them I don’t like their playing. I wouldn’t if I were you. Are you a fan of modern brass band music?

I dabble. Modern score then, is it? Yes. Composed by one Simon Dobson, who has a very illustrious CV. He was named British Composer of The Year in 2012 for a piece called A Symphony of Colours. Have a listen …

Very nice. This cheeky question-and-answer format hasn’t really taught me that much about the movie, though. There’s gratitude for you. Well, get yourself over to the BFI website then. And read this lovely piece about Walter Summers. And watch this space for more on The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands in weeks to come!

Do say: “Walter Summers is an unappreciated genius of British silent cinema. Have you seen A Couple of Down-and-Outs?”

Don’t say: “I thought the Falklands War took place in the 1980s.”

With apologies to the Guardian’s Pass Notes

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