The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands, BFI Gala Screening

A 1927 film featuring some of the most authentic re-enactments of naval warfare ever filmed – but which languished forgotten for decades and was almost lost for good – has been restored and is to be unveiled at a BFI London Film Festival Archive gala screening, before going on national release.

It is a timely re-release as it depicts two crucial sea battles in the early days of the First World War, almost exactly a century ago. The Battle of Coronel took place on 1 November 1914 and saw the loss of two British warships to German forces under Admiral Graf von Spee, leading to a British counter-attack culminating in the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December.

Directed by Walter Summers in an age far removed from the CGI tools available to today’s filmmaker, this moving epic used no models and no trick photography in its recreation of the battle scenes. Actual Royal Navy ships were used and filming took place in the open seas around Malta with the Scilly Isles standing in for the Falklands, although some interiors were recreated in the studio.

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.”

She added: “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 shoveling coal as the needle on a pressure gauge mounts, the reflected gleam of water on the cabin walls.”

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.

The film now has a stirring new score by Simon Dobson, 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.

The Battles Of Coronel And Falkland Islands (1927), BFI London Film Festival Archive gala screening, 16 October, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX, then on national cinematic release. For more information head to www.bfi.org.uk.

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Credits
1. Sailors greet a sister ship on the high seas: The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927). Courtesy of BFI.