This film is part of Free

Song of Ceylon

Ambitious, poetic documentary chronicling life in Ceylon.

Travelogue 1934 39 mins


The Song of Ceylon was originally commissioned as a series of short travelogues, but spawned an ambitious film transforming travelogue (exotic animals, eye-catching scenery, quirky customs) into a dreamlike film poem. Critics have since argued every possible position on the film's portrayal of colonialism and its subjects.

Only during editing did the film find its intricate design, a documentary 'song' in four movements. The first, 'The Buddha', is an impression of religious and cultural practices. 'The Virgin Island' is the most factually informative, featuring fishing and agricultural scenes. 'The Voice of Commerce' highlights the film's most controversial aspect, its ambivalence towards British imperialism. The final section, 'The Apparel of a God', returns to ritualistic images, as if synthesising the verse and chorus of Ceylon's 'song'. This government film is a public record, preserved and presented by the BFI National Archive on behalf of The National Archives, home to more than 1,000 years of British history.