Over 500 Victorian films available to view on BFI Player

By Rosemary Collins, 14 May 2019 - 11:48am

The British Film Institute has released a pioneering collection of Victorian films to mark Queen Victoria's 200th birthday

Victorian film BFI
The 1898 film clip Me and My Two Friends is now available to watch for free on the BFI Player (Credit: BFI)

Many of Britain’s earliest films are now available to view online for free.

The British Film Institute (BFI) is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth on 24 May 1819 by releasing its entire collection of British Victorian Film (1895–1901) for free on the BFI Player.

More than 500 films will be digitised, joining the existing films from the period to create a total collection exceeding 700.

The collection features the earliest known moving images of Queen Victoria herself, as well as famous figures such as Edward VII, Pope Leo XIII, Field Marshal Kitchener, English cricketer Prince Ranjitsinhji, music hall artistes Herbert Campbell and Lil Hawthorne, and actor Herbert Beerbohm Tree.

However, it also features images of everyday life for our Victorian ancestors, including the bustling streets of the growing cities; adults and children at work; and events such as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the Henley Regatta.

There are also films of Victorian entertainers, panoramas of exotic locations, and thrilling ‘trick’ films showcasing special effects.

The collection also includes some of the earliest war films, from the Second Boer War in 1899. They were captured by WKL Dickson, using a heavy Biograph camera and equipment that he transported around the battlefield.

Bryony Dixon, the BFI’s silent film curator, said: “These incredibly rare short surviving film fragments speak volumes, adding colour to our image of the Victorians’ vibrant and rapidly progressing world.”

The collection showcases the pioneering British filmmakers who broke new ground in developing the medium, including RW Paul, GA Smith, Walter Booth, Walter Gibbons, David Devant and Charles Urban.

They experimented with news, animation, drama, fantasy, comedy, advertising, travelogues, and even developing colour and sound. Our ancestors would have watched the clips in music halls alongside performances by singers and comedians.

The BFI digitised the films with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The collection includes incredibly rare 68-mm large-format films that have been restored in 4K digital resolution from the original nitrate prints.

 

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