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Waverley Steps U rating

Beautifully evocative impression of a Sunday in early postwar Edinburgh.

Documentary 1948 31 mins


Waverley Steps - subtitled ‘a visit to Edinburgh’ - is an evocative minor classic. John Eldridge’s film takes the semi-documentary form of a collage of scripted vignettes, at first disconnected but gradually overlapping. With visual grace, and a certain wit, the film entwines a coalman’s working day with students’ revels by night, the proceedings of a court with the rituals of a courtship.

Under Eldridge’s assured direction, every image is carefully framed, lit with contrasty crispness and filled with human detail, while the soundtrack takes in the excited cries of children, a brimstone sermon (recited over a camera-track past a gloomy graveyard) and music highbrow and low. Eldridge was reportedly influenced by Swedish filmmaker Arne Sucksdorff’s Rhythm of a City. His own film is a rather British compromise between touristy travelogue and more arty ‘city symphony’ - plus a unique twist on the wartime ‘story documentary’, switching its emphasis from plot to atmosphere. It was the sort of film – relatively expensive, consciously artistic and freely interpreting a loose remit – that the Central Office of Information, who sponsored it, would soon turn its back on in favour of tightly targeted and budgeted productions. A curio, certainly, and contrived too, but done this well who can complain… 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.