Free

Victorian Film

Queen Victoria's long reign famously saw extraordinary advances: in industry, transport, science, culture... But one vital innovation is too often missed: the moving image, the last great invention of the age. Yet film forever changed the way we see the world. And even before the French Lumière brothers presented their first demonstrations in London in 1895, British filmmakers were beginning to make their mark. Now, for the first time, we are making publically available all of the BFI's collections of British films made in the first six years of the medium - from 1895 to 1901.

Some of these films have been in common circulation for decades, but others are little known, and many are appearing in public for the first time since their original screenings well over a century ago. 

In these collections you'll find the most comprehensive gallery of Victorian films ever assembled. Hundreds of films made over the last years of Victoria's reign - six years in which film was transformed from the pursuit of a handful of showmen, chemists and amateur enthusiasts into a dynamic industry, and from fairground novelty into the greatest entertainment of the age.

For too long, Britain's role in the development of film has been undervalued or downplayed. It's time for that to change. Starting here.

 

This collection is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Read more Close
Solar Eclipse
Watch for free

Solar Eclipse

Non-Fiction19001 mins

The magic of a real solar eclipse filmed by a famous magician

Me and My Two Friends
Watch for free

Me and My Two Friends

18980 minsSilent Location: Worthing

A beatific image of Victorian childhood

Children in the Nursery
Watch for free

Children in the Nursery

Comedy18981 minsSilent

Seen but not heard? Three children get up to mischief after mother puts them to bed in this Victorian entertainment.

The Magic Extinguisher
Watch for free

The Magic Extinguisher

Trick film19012 minsSilent

You'll never guess quite what this chap can hide under his cone...

Ambulance Crossing the Modder
Watch for free

Ambulance Crossing the Modder

Non-Fiction18991 minsSilent

A surprisingly languid scene shot far from the Boer War battlefields.

The Big Swallow
Watch for free

The Big Swallow

Comedy19011 minsSilent

A classic early film gag - and a big leap forward for a fast-evolving new art

First X-ray Cinematograph Film Ever Taken
Watch for free

First X-ray Cinematograph Film Ever Taken

0 mins

Frogs legs on film: trailblazing Victorian medical research

How It Feels to Be Run Over
Watch for free

How It Feels to Be Run Over

Trick film19001 minsSilent

A terrifying first-person brush with death at the hands of a dangerous driver

Rough Sea at Dover
Watch for free

Rough Sea at Dover

Non-Fiction18950 minsSilent

Waves crash onto a jetty on the Kentish shoreline in one of Britain's earliest surviving films

Vaulting Horse Display
Watch for free

Vaulting Horse Display

Sport19001 minsSilent

An astonishing display of synchronised gymnastics

Churned Waters
Watch for free

Churned Waters

Non-Fiction18991 minsSilent

A hypnotic study of the wake of a ship at sea

Launch of the Worthing Lifeboat Coming Ashore
Watch for free

Launch of the Worthing Lifeboat Coming Ashore

Documentary18981 minsSilent Location: Worthing

Stunning footage of a lifesaving demonstration

Explore further

The Victorian Street
Free collection

The Victorian Street

Some of the most fascinating of early films are those which are content to watch the Victorian world go by. Numerous filmmakers parked their cameras on street corners, outside workplaces or churches, or into sports venues to capture moments of everyday life. 

Victorian Entertainment
Free collection

Victorian Entertainment

"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.

Grand Tour
Free collection

Grand Tour

The Victorian age witnessed a transport revolution, but even at the end of Victoria's reign, overseas travel was still beyond the reach of many. Films, though, could transport their audiences to distant climes.

Pomp and Circumstance
Free collection

Pomp and Circumstance

Parades, processions and royal visits were a great draw for early filmmakers - not only did they guarantee spectacle but their fixed place in the calendar allowed for planning ahead. Even minor royals commanded endless fascination, while the Queen herself was the greatest celebrity of all.

England Expects
Free collection

England Expects

Military heroes came second only to the Queen herself in the hierarchy of Victorian celebrity culture. With the British Empire at its peak, filmmakers jostled for glimpses of conquering heroes like Lord Kitchener and Field-Marshal Roberts.

Victorian Mysteries
Free collection

Victorian Mysteries

There's a lot we can learn about early films from producers' and exhibitors' catalogues, in contemporary accounts in newspapers or the trade press, or by examining the original celluloid film. But sometimes, try as we might, the archivists and historians draw a blank. Where and when was this film shot, and who by? Is it British? French? American? Egyptian? What does it mean? 

Maybe you can help...

Victoria's New Media Pioneers
Free collection

Victoria's New Media Pioneers

Electrical instrument maker, inventor, photographer, chemist, magic lanternist, magician - these were the men who built British film. Among that first generation of filmmakers, there were a few whose ambition, ingenuity and business acumen lifted them above the rest. And even if today's filmmakers may not always recognise it, they tread in the footsteps of these intrepid pioneers.

Inventing Film Language
Free collection

Inventing Film Language

In any new technology, it's the early adopters whose innovations and discoveries begin to map out what is possible. The first filmmakers had a lot to learn, but with eager audiences to please, they learnt quickly.