This film is part of Free

International Exchange

Early propaganda film setting out an emotive case for 'fair trade', or tariff reform

Drama 1905 5 mins Silent


This fascinating early propaganda film enacts one of the key political battles of the early 20th century, between advocates of free trade and protectionism. As in many political cartoons of the time, Britain is represented by the steadfast figure of John Bull, who opens his door to traders from the USA, Germany, Russia and the Netherlands while they in turn impose tariffs on his goods. Finally he cottons on to this injustice and introduces tariffs of his own, with special privileges for his colonial partners Canada and India.

The film, which launched a series on political subjects from the Hepworth Company, comes down firmly - aggressively even - on the side of 'fair trade', that is, tariff reform. The latter is represented by a young woman who protects the interests of the working man and his family, while a witchlike old crone makes the case for free trade. The issue was tearing apart the Conservative-led coalition government, still reeling from the 1903 resignation of Joseph Chamberlain, one of the loudest voices for tariffs. Prime minister Arthur Balfour himself resigned in December 1905 and the general election in January would see the Conservatives crushed in a landslide win for Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's free trade supporting Liberal Party.