Countries & Regions: United Kingdom
Length: 150 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 9 September 2013
Cat No: SNB6734
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British Home Front: Public Information Films of World War I
Collection of documentaries and short films made to boost British morale during the First World War. Among the films included in the... Read More
Containing 2 1/2 hours of public information films, silent instructional dramas and animated propaganda drawn from the archives of the Imperial War Museum, this collection provides a fascinating look at the attitudes and concerns of wartime, 1914-18. And fairly ripe some of the films are too: 'Every penny saved is a good work begun / Each six pence will help to blot out the Hun' is a typical sentiment from a film promoting Savings Bonds.
Lancelot Speed's cartoons and pen and wash animation - in Britain's Effort among other films - provide impressive visualizations of the huge increase of women involved in the war effort, output of munitions (to an increasingly startled sphinx who sees a pyramid-sized pile grow to the horizon) and Britain's total war expenditure to the end of 1917, shown as gold sovereigns girdling the earth three times and more.
However, it's with the various Ministry of Information mini-dramas that the collection really comes alive. Promoting War Savings Bonds ('Every Hun Dreads Every Hun-Dred Put into National War Bonds'), the cure for potato blight, the importance of saving bones for munitions, growing your own vegetables, making dumplings without suet, helping out with part-time work on the land, eating beans ('Beans are an Energiser') and much else besides, they are a treasure trove of ideas and imagery of the time. Indeed, those interested in the Mitchell & Kenyon films will find much to take the eye here, as men, women and children take to the land to help out with digging, drainage, cabbage planting and rhubarb and blackberry picking, while naval brigade boys go door-to-door collecting scraps for pig-food.
Daily life is also to the fore in Life at Iwerne Minster in War Time (1918), in which various aspects of life in the Dorset village - people at the village pump, children dancing around the maypole, butter making, sales of lambs and heifers, children knitting socks for father, feeding time at the rabbitry, 'Keeper Hubbard' making skeps and beehives and spinning off the honeycomb, prisoners of war hauling timber, hurdle making - are shown.
Some of the films are startling still in their attitude, particularly The Leopard's Spots (1918), in which sneering German soldiers laugh after snatching and throwing a woman's baby to the ground ('Once a German, Always a German' reads the intertitle). The war ends and these same men metamorphose into beer-swilling salesman who 'penetrate our peaceful English villages with German goods to sell. They will be the same Beasts then as they are now. The Leopard cannot change his spots'. 'How Shall We Treat Them?' asks the intertitle - by bringing in the local bobby and telling them to hop it is the answer. Humphrey Jennings seems a very long way away.
The Woman's Portion is based around the plight of women at home with their husbands at the war. In it, a woman receives a letter telling her that her husband has died. Woken from an uneasy night she then sees him walk in the door. Sam Livesey (looking every bit the father of Roger) plays the corporal who, sick of the war and aching for home, manufactures a dodge with a stolen warrant of leave. His wife sets him straight - 'I'd sooner you were dead than a deserter,' she says.
All in all, it's an extremely interesting collection, though I can't see anyone now taking up the advice to bleach diseased potatoes in the smoke of flour of sulphur before drying and mincing them, even if the resulting flour does mean they can make bigger dumplings.