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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...

We've collected here some of the earliest films in the BFI's collections (at least they seem to be), which we wish we knew more about. So grab your deerstalker and your magnifying glass, and put your observational skills to the test on this enigmatic assortment. Can you recognise a building, a landscape, a military uniform?

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Breakers
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Breakers

Non-Fiction18960 minsSilent

A handful of passers-by watch waves breaking gently onto a shore

Indian Scenes
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Indian Scenes

Non-Fiction18990 minsSilent

A happy New Year from 'India'

Unidentified Chinese Men (c.1900)
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Unidentified Chinese Men (c.1900)

Non-Fiction19002 minsSilent

How did these Chinese gentlemen end up in a Blackburn basement?

Soldier Shooting
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Soldier Shooting

Non-Fiction19001 minsSilent

A wounded soldier takes aim

Steamship
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Steamship

Non-Fiction19001 mins

Take a trip downriver side-by-side with a magnificent Victorian steamship, which dwarfs everything else on the water

Wedding Ceremony in a Church
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Wedding Ceremony in a Church

19002 minsSilent

Who doesn't love a wedding? This breezy film squeezes the whole service into two minutes flat

Crude Set Drama
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Crude Set Drama

Comedy18961 minsSilent

A basic bit of early comic storytelling on film

Woman and a Pram Hood
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Woman and a Pram Hood

Interest film18970 mins

Woman tucks notional baby into prop pram

Street Scene in unidentified European city
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Street Scene in unidentified European city

Non-Fiction18961 minsSilent

Few clues to who shot these Victorian scenes on an unknown bridge, and where.

Unidentified Factory Gate (c.1900)
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Unidentified Factory Gate (c.1900)

Non-Fiction19002 minsSilent

Mystery workers hurry through cobbled streets

Unidentified Factory Gate Exit in Lancashire (c.1900)
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Unidentified Factory Gate Exit in Lancashire (c.1900)

Non-Fiction19001 minsSilent Location: Lancashire

A diverse workforce make their way from the factory, perhaps a Lancashire cotton mill?

Unidentified Park (c.1900)
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Unidentified Park (c.1900)

Non-Fiction19011 minsSilent

An expectant crowd gathers for a Victorian public performance.

City Square with Procession
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City Square with Procession

Non-Fiction18970 minsSilent

This city square plays host to a fantastic procession of mounted soldiers