1915 on Film
As a nation steeled itself for a long war, cinemas offered desperately wanted information - and welcome distraction. Find out what Britain watched a century ago.
Despite promises, the War clearly wasn't over by Christmas 1914, so the cinema business dug in for the long haul. Newsreels, comedies, animation and dramas all covered war subjects, though producers made sure audiences could enjoy more escapist fare, too. Meanwhile the still-young feature film continued its inexorable advance. With 20 million people visiting cinemas each week, exhibitors could have a real impact, recruiting and raising funds - notably for ambulances to go to the Front – and organising community screenings of Roll of Honour films to commemorate local men lost or wounded. Inevitably, film producers focused on war subjects, and although newsreel cameras were still banned from the fighting, images of allied troops away from the Front were a regular feature of newsreels - and of course the home front was covered extensively. The war profoundly affected drama too. The first ever version of the Edith Cavell story, Nurse and Martyr, was rushed out only a month after her death at the hands of a German firing squad, and the cinema offered escape through the new long features, which continued to grow in popularity with historical subjects like Jane Shore, a lavish medieval spectacle.
Roll of Honour film191514 mins
A rare surviving WWI memorial film, featuring poignant images of men killed or injured serving in the armed forces.
Non-Fiction19157 mins Location: Chichester
Attractive travelogue exploring famous old Sussex landmarks, taking in views including Chichester, Lewes, Arundel and Bosham.
Non-Fiction19155 mins Location: Sheffield
A rare film of Sheffield in 1915 with well-to-do women of the city out selling flowers on the streets to raise money for Alexandra Rose Day, and visiting recently wounded soldiers.
Animation & Artists Moving Image19155 mins
An edible bomb is cooked by the Kaiser in this fun WWI cartoon, which mixes propaganda with fantasy as a boy's dreams turn into nightmares.
Animation & Artists Moving Image19155 mins
An animated recreation of the sinking of the Lusitania is the centrepiece of this pioneering mix of comedy, satire and outrage in cartoon propaganda.
Animation & Artists Moving Image19157 mins
More chalk-talker than pencil-pusher, this popular artist recreates his cartoons for the screen with flashes of added animation.
The comic capers of upper-class wastrel Basil the Brainless - thrown out by his father and sent to the country, where he tries to get a job on a poultry farm...
Non-Fiction1915 mins Location: Stratford-upon-Avon
Top-hatted gents (one Japanese) parade through the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon to mark Shakespeare's birthday and St George's Day.
Veterans of the 1867 Garibaldi campaign lead a WWI recruiting march in Walham Green near Fulham Broadway.
Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: Tottenham
A large crowd of munitions workers take a break from the factory to watch Arsenal beat Spurs 2-0 during the First World War.
Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: Ramsgate
Public anxiety about war from the air is all too real for the people of Ramsgate in this newsreel footage of the aftermath of a Zeppelin raid.
All quiet on Germany's Western Front, but the ferocity of Allied artillery bombardment is plain to see in these eerie scenes of carnage.
Non-Fiction19155 mins Location: Buckingham Palace
This intriguing and beautifully-shot newsreel features sea-faring heroes, feisty females and a generous lick of paint for a Mississippi steamship.
Non-Fiction19155 mins Location: Epsom
A brave young soldier receives the Victoria Cross - just one stirring newsreel story on this complete WWI-era edition of Gaumont Graphic.
Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: Westminster
Major-General Francis Lloyd, responsible for the defence of London during WWI, scrutinises a line of volunteers.
A small band of French soldiers take to the woods of the Argonne in this military exercise - probably staged for the camera.
Lord Kitchener at the Guildhall The Great War Minister Received by the Lord Mayor at the Ancient City Hall for the Opening of a Three Weeks' Recruiting Cam Aign Warwick Bioscope Chronicle No. 261-2
Non-Fiction19151 mins Location: City of London
Horatio Herbert Kitchener, the face of WWI, takes a break from pointing his finger to inspect recruits at London’s Guildhall