New restoration of ‘The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands’ to be unveiled as the Archive gala screening at the BFI London Film Festival

New restoration of ‘The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands’ to be unveiled as the Archive gala screening at the BFI London Film Festival 

The BFI National Archive has announced that the world premiere of a new restoration of a major British silent film, The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927) will be unveiled as the BFI London Film Festival Archive gala screening.

The film is to be presented in partnership with American Express® on 16th October 2014 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, followed by a nationwide release in cinemas, with a simultaneous release on BFI Player and later issued on BFI DVD.

This virtually unknown film offers a stunning recreation of two key battles faced by the Royal Navy in the early days of World War One, almost exactly a century ago.

The Battle of Coronel took place on 1st November 1914 and the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8th December 1914.

The first major engagement between German and British ships at Coronel was a terrible defeat for Britain with the loss of two warships achieved by Admiral Graf von Spee. Later the British responded in a desperate bid to save the morale of a nation at war.

The film will have a stirring new score, commissioned from award-winning composer, Simon Dobson, whose previous work includes a musical commemoration of the Penlee lifeboat tragedy.

The score will be performed, appropriately, by 24 members of the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines in honour of the 24 members of the band who lost their lives with the sinking of HMS Monmouth at the battle of Coronel.

Directed by Walter Summers, this moving epic of war at sea shows just how the battles were fought. Royal Navy ships were used and filming took place in the open seas around Malta with the Scilly Isles standing in for the Falklands. Scenes of naval warfare have rarely been captured on film with such a degree of authenticity. No models and no trick photography were employed, although some interiors were recreated in the studio. A special screening was held at Balmoral for King George V and critics heaped praise on the film.

This was an age when captains still heroically and tragically went down with their ships, alongside thousands of sailors on both sides who lost their lives.

Bryony Dixon, curator, Silent Film, BFI National Archive said:

“The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands is 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. This new restoration by the BFI National Archive will showcase the hugely ambitious filmmaking task set by Walter Summers, a much under- rated director, who called on the full resources of the British Admiralty to film using actual battleships. The film was hugely successful in its day and is a fitting memorial to the thousands of sailors who died on both sides.”

In the entry on The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands in BFI Screen Guide – 100 Silent Films (2009), Bryony Dixon wrote: “It is curious that the film is not better known today, for the filmmaking is astonishingly effective, leading critic C. A. Lejeune to say “The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands is without question the best motion picture that a British director has ever made”. She also mentioned it in the same breath as Metropolis and Abel Gance’s La Roue and it was, of course, because of the subject matter compared to Battleship Potemkin. Walter Summers’ filmmaking style, like Eisenstein’s, glories in the beauty of the machine – the diagonals of the big guns, the vast scale of the battleships, the fierce industry of the shipyards, the rhythm of feet on the gangplank, the movement of men shovelling coal as the needle on a pressure gauge mounts, the reflected gleam of water on the cabin walls.”

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The Restoration:

The restoration by the BFI National Archive’s restoration team was undertaken in association with Deluxe Digital.

The film had suffered extensive wear and tear during its 86-year history and there was severe damage in some key shots as well as some missing inserts, such as letters and telegrams, which we were lucky enough to be able to retrieve from another copy.

The incomplete main titles containing the credits for the producer and director have been recreated from single frames containing a faint shadow, just detectable, on the dissolve from one card to the other.

The original materials were acquired by the BFI National Archive sometime around the late 1940s but the original nitrate negatives decomposed early on. The team have worked primarily with a second generation positive copy and some other later elements which were scanned at 4K resolution.

Extensive grading and months of digital restoration with the specialist team at Deluxe were needed to represent the quality of what is a brilliantly cinematic work.

The restoration will be offered in digital and 35mm film copies and we will make both a new 35mm negative and digital masters for permanent preservation for the nation.

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