Britain on Film


Britain on Film

The BFI today launches Britain on Film, a new project that reveals hidden histories and forgotten stories of people and places from the UK’s key film and TV archives. From today the archives go digital on BFI Player, giving everybody in the UK free access to 1,000s of film and TV titles featuring where they live, grew up, went to school, holidayed as a child, or any place of interest in Britain.

By 2017, thanks to National Lottery funding and the support of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, 10,000 film and TV titles from 1895 to the present day will be digitised. The public can get involved with the project via Twitter and Facebook, with a campaign launching today that sees 60 films from all over the UK released over 60 days, and special screenings, events and partnerships across the UK. Also announced today is a newly-commissioned film from Penny Woolcock, using Britain on Film material.

Through the project, Britain on Film curators have found extraordinary footage of ordinary people and places from across the collections. These include:

The Passmore Family Collection – the world’s earliest known surviving home movies (1902) feature 10 films of the family on holiday in Bognor Regis and The Isle of Wight and at home in Streatham, London. 

SCOTLAND – Old Norse Viking Festival (1927): wonderfully bizarre folkloric rituals with locals dressed as Michelin Men, walruses, sheep and Vikings

WALES – Tryweryn – The Story of a Valley (1965): a film made by local schoolchildren of the controversial flooding of Capel Celyn and Tryweryn Valley to make a new reservoir

NORTHERN IRELAND – Prawn Festival Kilkeel  & Lord Mayor's Show (1962): from the year it began, this film shows the huge crowds that came to the harbour every summer – now known as the Kingdom of Mourne Festival and still going strong

NORTHERN ENGLAND – Davy Crockett (1955): a police officer playing Davy Crockett rides through the city of Hull to get a road safety message across to children

THE MIDLANDS – Evidence (1935): first film used in an English court of law to prosecute an illegal gambling ring in the town of Chesterfield, with an appearance by three circus elephants

 SOUTHERN ENGLAND – Father Neptune Ceremony on Brighton Beach (1951): fun and frolics at Brighton Swimming Club, England's oldest Swimming Club, still going strong today

EASTERN ENGLAND – George Bernard Shaw’s Village (1949): rare footage of the celebrated playwright at home in Ayot St Lawrence, Herts, including extraordinary scenes with American actor and singer Danny Kaye

LONDON – Do Something! (1970): a community-based adventure playground project exposes division in a diverse local community in Islington

This newly accessible film and TV presents a Britain that is vibrant, diverse and eccentric, whilst shining a light on issues and situations that affect every generation. Many of these films have never – or rarely – been seen since their first appearance and can now be searched for by specific UK locations through BFI Player’s ground-breaking new Film and TV Map of the UK, which also enables people to share films with their family, friends and communities.

Through Britain on Film, a moving and intimate portrait of the diversity of British life is revealed by professional and amateur footage of vanished landscapes, urban and rural communities, historic traditions and folklore, people at work and at play, and British characters in all their unique glory. Newsreels, advertisements, home movies, forgotten TV shows, and films by government departments all offer surprising insights into British life in the 20th century.

Britain on Film is the result of the BFI National Archive and the UK’s national and regional film archives and rights holders joining forces to bring these films together with a major programme of curation and digitisation that started in 2012 and continues until the end of 2017.


Britain on Film will be reaching the British public in many different ways this summer all over the UK:

The BFI Film Audience Network (FAN) will be staging 85 screening events in 46 locations from Belfast to Canterbury and southern Wales to Inverness. Highlights include:

Glasgow – pop-up cinemas will show feature films set in Southside including Ronald Neame’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) and David Lean’s Madeline (1950) in Pollok House alongside regionally specific archive footage

KentGeorg Hoellering’s Murder in the Cathedral (1951) screened in Canterbury Cathedral – as part of the Canterbury Festival on 27/28 October

Belfast – Culture Night, 18 September, will screen curated programmes of short archive films shown at the places where they were originally shot, or where there is a strong thematic link

London – an outdoor screening of Made in Dagenham at Parsloes Park, Dagenham, alongside a programme of archive film showing the urban history of the area.


Britain on Film is one of the largest and most complex archival projects ever undertaken and is part of the BFI’s Unlocking Film Heritage programme (2013-17). Unlocking film heritage for everyone in the UK to enjoy is a key strategic priority for the BFI, and Britain on Film is the public launch of a vast programme of work, which has been ongoing for over three years. This work has included a sophisticated programme of data capture, cataloguing, copying to archival standards, meticulous preservation of original materials, thorough searching of archives across the country, new state-of- the-art equipment and digital storage facilities and the transfer of films to the BFI’s online video platform, BFI Player. 

Unlocking Film Heritage and Britain on Film are thanks to £15 million funding from the National Lottery and the additional support of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. 

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