Is it too late to tell you about the BFI’s Victorian Film Weekender? Not quite. There’s still time to book for this weekend’s three days of screenings, debates and talks – including a reprise of the magnificent Great Victorian Moving Picture Show, first seen at the London Film Festival. So hurry – go do that – and then mark another date in your diary: Monday 13 May.
That’s when a cavalcade of Victorian cinema will appear online, on the marvellous BFI Player. And it’s all in honour of a bicentenary: it’s coming up to 200 years since Queen Victoria was born, on 24 May 1819. In Canada, they celebrate that date every year as Victoria day. Now we can join in by watching vintage cinema in the great monarch’s honour.
Here’s Bryony Dixon, BFI silent film curator, telling you why you should watch.
“Early British film is a legacy to be proud of, these rare moving pictures document the last years of Queen Victoria’s long reign with a vividness that no other kind of historical artefact can bring. These incredibly rare, fragile film fragments speak volumes, adding colour and texture to our understanding of the Victorians vibrant and rapidly progressing world”
More than 700 British films made between 1895 and 1901 will be available to watch, entirely free of charge, on the streaming site, including those astonishing 4K digital restorations of the 68mm large-format films. That’s around 200 Victorian-era titles from the Mitchell & Kenyon collection and 500 newly transferred films.
The filmmakers responsible include: including RW Paul, Birt Acres, WKL Dickson, James Williamson, Walter Booth, GA Smith, Cecil Hepworth and Walter Gibbon. The quality of many of these films is incredible and the range and variety breathtaking.
Subjects include the Boer War, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Boat Race, travelogues, boat launches, football, theatre, agriculture and working life. And you’ll be able to spot figures including Queen Victoria, Edward VII, the Duke of Windsor, Tsar Nicholas II, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Pope Leo XIII, WG Grace, Prince Ranjitsinhji, Herbert Campbell, Lil Hawthorne and Herbert Beerbohm Tree. There’s even sound and colour – so hold on to your hats!
I’ve had a little advance peek at some of this, and I can tell you that it’s a fascinating collection – offering glimpses of public and private life from the century before last as well as some seriously experimental filmmaking.
- Watch the films here on BFI Player.
- Look out for Victorian cinema on your TV too: the BBC Four series Victorian Sensations and a CBBC Horrible Histories special featuring films from the BFI archive.
- Read Bryony Dixon on large-format Victorian cinema here, and buy this month’s Sight & Sound for more.
- Book for the Victorian Film Weekender now!
- Want to know more about RW Paul in particular? Head to the ANIMATOGRAPH! How cinema was born in Haringey exhibition at Bruce Castle Museum in Tottenham.
- If you’re a BFI Player fan (and why wouldn’t you be?) and you’re not going to be at the BFI this weekend, why not head to the British Life on Film Conference on Saturday 11 May? In this one-day event, scholars from a variety of disciplines will consider how their work has been informed by encounters with archive films recently made available online.
- Silent London will always be free to all readers. If you enjoy checking in with the site, including reports from silent film festivals, features and reviews, please consider shouting me a coffee on my Ko-Fi page