"We are not amused", said Queen Victoria - or so we're told. Her subjects, though, were eager for all manner of entertainments. The first films made their homes in the fairground and the music hall, and the first filmmakers - several of them originally showmen or magic lanternists - were more than happy to supply the laughs, drama and thrills that audiences demanded.
Comic skits, sight gags, dramatic scenes and the like were hugely popular. Non-fiction subjects outnumbered entertainments, but it was the second that inspired early filmmakers to many of their greatest innovations, from 'facials' (the first close-ups) to 'tricks', the prototype for modern special effects.
Comic Faces - Old Man Drinking a Glass of Beer
How many faces can one man pull while drinking one glass of beer? Far more than you might think
Children in the Nursery
Seen but not heard? Three children get up to mischief after mother puts them to bed in this Victorian entertainment.
Explosion of a Motor Car
A hapless copper is left to pick up the pieces after a gruesome collision of early trick cinema and cartoonish comedy
Hanging out the Clothes; Or, Master, Mistress and Maid
A philandering husband gets hung out to dry on laundry day
Grandma Threading Her Needle
Granny's eyesight may be failing, but she won't rest until she has threaded her needle, and given us a giggle too
The Sports and Nations' Dance, Grand Finale and Curtain, On Open Air Stage at Crystal Palace
A Victorian stage spectacle filmed at the magnificent Crystal Palace in south London
Interest film19032 minsSilent
What’s in your cheese? The microscopic mites here are unpleasant today but caused a sensation in 1903, in one of the Britain’s earliest exhibited scientific films.
A Prize Fight or Glove Fight between John Bull and President Kruger
The two sides of the Boer War slug it out
Attack on a China Mission - Bluejackets to the Rescue
War19001 minsSilent Location: Brighton
Fictional treatment of a contemporary atrocity story from the 1900 Boxer rebellion in China.
Arrest of Goudie (1901)
Crime19016 minsSilent Location: Berry St, Liverpool
Crimewatch Mitchell and Kenyon style, in the first ever film to recreate a true crime.
Aunt Selina - Takes Snuff, Sews and Plays with Her Cats
This ‘facial’ comedy showcases the rubber face of Tom Green.
Attack on a Mission Station
War19001 minsSilent Location: Blackburn
Dramatised account of Chinese rebels' violent confrontation with Christian missionaries, made in the wake of the Boxer Rebellion.
The Indian Chief and the Seidlitz Powder
A witty warning that medicine is not to be messed with: mix the wrong dose of powders and your bellyache may blow up
The Tramp and the Baby's Bottle
It's a lovely day in the park, for romance and daylight robbery - but will this tramp make a clean getaway?
Waif and the Wizard; or, The Home Made Happy
Trick film19012 minsSilent
A boy asks a magician to entertain his sick sister in this edition of RW Paul’s Sentimental Songs with Animated Illustrations.
Undressing Extraordinary; Or, The Troubles of a Tired Traveller
Trick film19012 minsSilent
Entertaining example of early 'special effects'
Tom Merry, Lightning Cartoonist, Sketching Kaiser Wilhelm II
Trick film18950 minsSilent
Quick on the draw: Victorian cartoonist Tom Merry does a rapid sketch of Kaiser Wilhelm II