Commonwealth Tales

Vibrant snapshots of life in member states across the 20th century, both before and after the foundation of the Commonwealth. 

To mark the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in London in April 2018, the BFI presents a collection of films from the BFI National Archive that show life in a variety of member states before and after the foundation of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth of Nations is an intergovernmental organisation comprised of 53 member states, including the UK, and spanning all six inhabited continents. It was established to help maintain global unity through the promotion of democracy, good government, human rights, and economic development.

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Victory ParadeVictory Parade

Documentary194621 mins

Soldiers from the far reaches of the British Empire arrive in London to take part in the official commemoration of the end of war in Europe.

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Commonwealth FoundationCommonwealth Foundation

Government sponsored film196912 mins Location: Brixton

Beach, church and carnival – Chief Inspector of Brixton Police sent to Trinidad to learn about West Indian customs.

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Documentary194718 minsSilent

Advice for village families on raising children to become strong, healthy citizens

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Carnival FantastiqueCarnival Fantastique

Documentary196018 mins

Vibrant documentary that captures Trinidad's famous street carnival in 1960.

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Mauritius 1941Mauritius 1941

Amateur film194114 minsSilent

The film shows Port Louis, the capital; workers on sugar plantations and road mending as well as colonial life in the then British dependency.

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Messages from Bhupen KhakharMessages from Bhupen Khakhar

Documentary198337 mins

"Good taste can be very killing": personal reflections from the self-trained Indian painter.

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196916 minsSilent

A colour film of African wildlife by the ‘Ker, Downey and Selby Safari Company’, set up by Donald Ker, Sydney Downey and Harry Selby.

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Tours in Southern Bengal - In the SunderbansTours in Southern Bengal - In the Sunderbans

Amateur film193512 minsSilent

Everyday life and places of interest around the areas of Midnapore and Chittagong, including steamers and Indian boats along the Damodar river.

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Caribbean TripCaribbean Trip

195823 minsSilent

Amateur holiday footage of a family’s trip to the Caribbean and the Panama Canal.

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British South AfricaBritish South Africa

Documentary194319 mins

South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts delivers a stirring speech in London, watched by an approving Winston Churchill, in this affirmative film about South Africa’s contribution to the war.

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From Trinidad to Serve the EmpireFrom Trinidad to Serve the Empire

Non-Fiction19161 minsSilent Location: London

Colonial recruits from Trinidad meet the Lord Mayor of London during WWI

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South Africa - The Land of Smiles and SunshineSouth Africa - The Land of Smiles and Sunshine

Documentary193970 minsSilent

Colour amateur documentary from 1939 on life in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, produced by Frances Hotham.

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Dr. Bennett's Visit to South Africa, 4th August - 11th October 1944Dr. Bennett's Visit to South Africa, 4th August - 11th October 1944

Amateur film194440 minsSilent

Hugh Bennett’s visit to South Africa in 1944, as filmed (in colour) by C.J.J. Van Rensburg of the Soil Conservation Division, Department of Agriculture.

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Johnny Wardle Home Movies - England Cricket Tour of South Africa 1956-57Johnny Wardle Home Movies - England Cricket Tour of South Africa 1956-57

Amateur film195618 minsSilent

Before the sporting boycott of the apartheid state, South Africa was a touring destination for the English cricketer.

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African GatheringAfrican Gathering

18 minsSilent

Colour, silent film recording people, costumes, rites and festivities seen at a Durbar, which celebrates the culmination of Muslim festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

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Drama-documentary199215 mins Location: Brixton

Early 90s London gets a vibrant dose of African culture in this mini odyssey fusing dance, music and fashion.

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South African ScenesSouth African Scenes

10 minsSilent

Amateur colour footage showing architecture, people and landscapes in South Africa (including Pretoria), filmed c. 1950.

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African music at Stewards Comprehensive, HarlowAfrican music at Stewards Comprehensive, Harlow

News19747 mins Location: Harlow

With great enthusiasm, the schoolchildren of Stewards Comp in Harlow are inspired to drum, dance, and sing traditional African music.

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Aklowa African Village, Bishop's Stortford, EssexAklowa African Village, Bishop's Stortford, Essex

News19775 mins Location: Takeley

With workshops and performances, Aklowa village in Essex promotes a greater awareness of the richness of African culture.

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Aklowa African Village in EssexAklowa African Village in Essex

Factual TV19866 mins Location: Takeley

Essex primary schoolchildren share an unforgettable afternoon, living the life of an African villager.

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African Visitors to the Tower of LondonAfrican Visitors to the Tower of London

Documentary19496 mins Location: London

An African entourage makes a spectacular appearance in postwar London.

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London Line No. 373London Line No. 373

Cinemagazine197115 minsSilent Location: Westminster

A Ghanaian fashion student and a Nigerian squash player are among the Africans making a life in 70s Britain in this edition of the magazine show.

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Documentary194318 mins

From a London pub to the Alaska Highway, Canada’s influence extends far beyond its border, as shown in this celebration of America’s unique ties with its northern neighbour.

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Jenny's Dog Team JourneyJenny's Dog Team Journey

Documentary197525 mins

Travels with my camera: inspirational seventy-something Scottish film-maker Jenny Gilbertson travels through Northern Canada by dog sled, with four adults and a baby.

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Exercise Musk-oxExercise Musk-ox

Documentary194657 mins

A military film from 1946 “Chronicling a journey of exploration by the Canadian Army through the interior of Northern Canada in midwinter.”

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Khalapur CarpetsKhalapur Carpets

Promotional193212 minsSilent

Indian carpets make their way to Montreal in this promotional film

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Canada at WarCanada at War

Documentary194018 mins

In 1940 the war still seemed distant to US citizens. But what it was like for the 11 million ‘other Americans’ who were already at war? The March of Time cameras go north of the border to Canada to find out.

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Colourful CaribbeanColourful Caribbean

Documentary195559 minsSilent

Amateur film from 1955 showing the people, landscapes and architecture of numerous islands in the Caribbean by Everild Helweg-Larsen, F.R.G.S.

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British News No. 53British News No. 53

Non-Fiction194115 mins

Indian soldiers in Singapore, while their compatriots are trained in the manufacture of war munitions

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Ghana - New NationGhana - New Nation

195714 mins

It's smiles all round in this snapshot of postcolonial Ghana, born from the British imperial territory of the Gold Coast

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Malay StatesMalay States

Documentary193912 minsSilent

Silent, pre-World War Two documentary recording the people, landscapes and industries of the Federated Malay States, (1895-1946), which were to become modern-day Malaysia in 1963.

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Australia at WarAustralia at War

Non-Fiction194118 mins

A film full of contrasts captures Australia at a pivotal point in its history: under threat from Japan at home, but pledging to defend the British Empire and the Crown abroad.

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Alec Bedser Cricket Home Movies: MCC Tour of Australia 1954Alec Bedser Cricket Home Movies: MCC Tour of Australia 1954

Amateur film195452 minsSilent

The voyage, the camaraderie, the matches, the sights: the whole experience of a 1950s tour down under is here.

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Prince Ranjitsinhji Practising Batting at the NetsPrince Ranjitsinhji Practising Batting at the Nets

Sport18971 minsSilent

Probably the first ever cricket film: Indian cricketing royalty prepares for the first test between England and Australia at Sydney.

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Entertaining Soldiers After the RaidEntertaining Soldiers After the Raid

Non-Fiction19170 minsSilent

Keep calm and carry on - these East End schoolkids dance to lift the spirits of Kiwi troops

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New Zealanders Win at RugbyNew Zealanders Win at Rugby

Sport19161 minsSilent Location: Richmond Park

Soldiers representing South Africa and New Zealand billeted in London get stuck in during a rugby fixture in Richmond Park.

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Buccaneer HillBuccaneer Hill

Documentary15 minsSilent

Colour film showing the restoration of a historic house and views in the Bahamas, dating from the mid-20th century.

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Dance of the HarvestDance of the Harvest

Documentary19348 mins

A 1930s glimpse of life in rural Sri Lanka

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Song of CeylonSong of Ceylon

Travelogue193439 mins

Ambitious, poetic documentary chronicling life in Ceylon.

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Sri Lankan Kandyan Dance Troop at SidmouthSri Lankan Kandyan Dance Troop at Sidmouth

Current affairs19802 mins Location: Sidmouth

A Sri Lankan dance troop enthrals folk festival goers.

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The NileThe Nile

Amateur film19327 minsSilent

Silent amateur film of the lower reaches of the Nile in Uganda from 1932.

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Nigerian Wedding in CornwallNigerian Wedding in Cornwall

Current affairs19641 minsSilent Location: Pool

Dressing to please as the happy couple switch wedding dress for national dress.

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The Bradford GodfatherThe Bradford Godfather

197649 mins Location: Bradford

Meet Mohamed Fazal Hussain, elder statesman and all-round Mr Fixit of Bradford's Muslim community, and a film mogul in the making...

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Nigeria, Bruce 1930Nigeria, Bruce 1930

Amateur film193016 minsSilent

An amateur silent film illustrating the people and places of northern Nigeria, by Charles Bruce. From daily market life to adobe architecture, the film also features ceremonies and horse racing at a traditional Durbar.

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Nigerian Footballers in EnglandNigerian Footballers in England

Documentary194910 mins

An enlightening account of the first Nigerian football team to tour outside West Africa.

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Promise of PakistanPromise of Pakistan

Documentary195018 mins

Sword-dancing Patans, burqa-clad women, modern irrigation methods, a free press and a new airport: this film portrays the Pakistan of 1950 as a vibrant blend of ancient and modern.

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Kagan ValleyKagan Valley

Amateur film193115 mins

Amateur travelogue of the Kagan Valley and Darband, Pakistan.

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Tins for IndiaTins for India

Industry sponsored film19417 mins

Unseen for decades, Bimal Roy's documentary finds poetry in the kerosene can