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Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-war Britain (1951-1977) DVD

Various (Compilation), 1977

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1 Review // 2 Lists

Film Details

Directed by Various (Compilation)

Produced in 1977

Main Language - English

Countries & Regions - British Film

MovieMail's Review

Graeme Hobbs salutes this postwar collection of documentaries, including films by John Krish and Lindsey Anderson, which tell the story of a nation through its hopes, fears and triumphs.

Shadows of Progress is both an important collection – doing for postwar British documentary filmmaking what its companion volume, Land of Promise, did for the 1930s and 40s – and a mouthwatering one, liberating some rare and long-unseen titles from the archives, including four films each from John Krish and Lindsay Anderson.

As a whole, it shows filmmakers capturing a country and its people adapting to a period of great change and growth, cataloguing industrial boom (Stone into Steel, From First to Last) and inequalities (To Be A Woman), new towns (Faces of Harlow) and dereliction (Tomorrow’s Merseysiders), the coming of oil (The Island, Shellarama, The Shetland Experience) and its environmental cost (The Shadow of Progress).

A few highlights: Paul Dickson’s David, a touching portrait of collier-poet D.R. Griffiths, made by the Welsh Committee for the 1951 Festival of Britain; Lindsay Anderson’s Thursday’s Children, narrated by Richard Burton, in which a class of 4 year-olds at the Royal School for the Deaf in Margate learn ‘the game called speech’; Anthony Simmons’ Venice Grand Prix-winning Sunday by the Sea, a parade of saucy postcards, silly hats, fairground rides and packed beaches in 1953 Southend, and The Shadow of Progress, Derek Williams’ pioneering environmental film sponsored by BP in 1970.

Then there are John Krish’s films, including The Elephant Will Never Forget, a nostalgic reflection on the last days of the London trams (which despite it being one of BTF’s most popular films got him the sack from Edgar Anstey), I Think They Call Him John, a profoundly affecting portrait of old age loneliness, and Return to Life, a heartfelt film about of the problems that refugees face in resettling. It’s striking how many concerns current today – pollution, population growth, child abuse and terrorism to name but a few – were clearly and cogently raised in these films decades ago.

This is an essential look at Britain’s postwar history, its successes, worries, hopes and preoccupations.

Graeme Hobbs on 26th October 2010
Author of 298 reviews

Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-war Britain (1951-1977) Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-war Britain (1951-1977) Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-war Britain (1951-1977) Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-war Britain (1951-1977) Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-war Britain (1951-1977)

Film Description

An astounding collection of rare, unseen and otherwise unavailable postwar British documentary films. This landmark collection brings together for the first time almost 14 hours of film material preserved in the BFI National Archive, telling the previously untold story of British documentary filmmaking through the 1950s-70s.

Britain emerged from the Second World War a changed country. In an era of inevitable and far-reaching change, the country's documentary filmmakers set out to engage with the country's people and places, values and industries in fresh, exciting ways. Out of the shadows cast by the celebrated documentarists of the wartime years, such as Humphrey Jennings and Paul Rotha, emerged the likes of John Krish, Eric Marquis and Derrick Knight, each of whom employed bold and distinctive new techniques in order to tackle an increasingly diverse array of subjects.

This collection redefines the filmmaking of a critical era of Britain's history. These films and filmmakers have been unjustly overlooked and under-appreciated, yet the films presented here - commissioned by private industry, commercial sponsors, Government departments and independent charities - are every bit as inspired, ground-breaking and indispensable as anything produced by the Free Cinema or British Documentary Movements.

Disc 1: The Island - David (Paul Dickson, 1951, 38 mins), To Be A Woman (Jill Craigie, 1951, 18 mins), The Island (Peter Pickering, 1952, 25 mins), The Elephant will Never Forget (John Krish, 1953, 10 mins), Sunday by the Sea (Anthony Simmons, 1953, 13 mins), Henry (Lindsay Anderson, 1955, 4 mins), Foot and Mouth (Lindsay Anderson, 1955, 20 mins), Birthright (Sarah Erulkar, 1958, 25 mins), They Took Us To The Sea (John Krish, 1961, 26 mins) and Faces of Harlow (Derrick Knight, 1964, 30 mins).

Disc 2: Return to Life - Thursday's Children (Lindsay Anderson Guy Brenton, 1954, 20 mins), There Was a Door... (Derek Williams, 1957, 30 mins), People Apart (Guy Brenton, 1957, 36 mins), Return to Life (John Krish, 1960, 29 mins), Four People (Guy Brenton, 1962, 41 mins), A Time to Heal (Derrick Knight, 1963, 40 mins) and Time Out of Mind (Eric Marquis, 1968, 38 mins).

Disc 3: The Shadow of Progress - Three Installations (Lindsay Anderson, 1952, 23 mins), The Film That Never Was (Paul Dickson, 1957, 30 mins), Stone into Steel (Paul Dickson, 1960, 37 mins), From First to Last (Anthony Simmons, 1962, 30 mins), People, Productivity and Change (Peter Bradford, 1963, 44 mins), Shellarama (Richard Cawston, 1965, 14 mins), Picture to Post (Sarah Erulkar, 1969, 23 mins), and The Shadow of Progress (Derek Williams, 1970, 26 mins).

Disc 4: Today in Britain - Today in Britain (Peter Hopkinson, 1964, 19 mins), I Think They Call Him John (John Krish, 1964, 28 mins), Portrait of Queenie (Michael Orrom, 1964, 46 mins), Education for the Future (Derrick Knight, 1967, 10 mins), Tomorrow's Merseysiders (Eric Marquis, 1974, 25 mins) , Time of Terror (Eric Marquis, 1975, 18 mins) and The Shetland Experience (Derek Williams, 1977, 27 mins).

DVD Details

Certificate: 15

Publisher: BFI

Length: 880 mins

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Format: DVD Colour

Region: 0

Released: 15th November 2010

Cat No: BFIVD825

DVD Extras

  • 4 discs
  • 100 page book.

Film Stills

Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-war Britain (1951-1977) Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-war Britain (1951-1977) Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-war Britain (1951-1977) Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-war Britain (1951-1977) Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-war Britain (1951-1977)

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