British Empire Early Films
As art forms within the imperial experience cinema and television were relatively recent inventions. As latecomers they only started to have an impact on the culture of the empire as the empire itself began its decline. At first, attempts were made to use film for crude propaganda purposes - especially in the 1920s and 1930s. The Europeans tended to be the heroes and the natives were shown as the 'baddies' or as inferior peoples who needed the benevolent protection of the white man. It is interesting that Adolf Hitler cited his favourite film as the Lives of the Bengal Lancer - no doubt it conformed to his Social Darwinist world view (he was also keen on Western films for the same reason).
The Second World War
World War Two continued the need for propagandistic films - although the focus had new clearly defined 'baddies' to portray. The myriad colonial soldiers were invariably portrayed as fighting alongside the 'mother' country as one big, happy family. There could still be racist overtones - particularly with regards to the Japanese - but as they were enemies, little thought was given to such stereotyping.
The Post-War Period
As Britain was on the winning side of World War Two, there was an initial rush of patriotic films celebrating battles from the Second World War or from imperial escapades before the war. This was the last great hurrah for overtly patriotic films although these would quickly fade in popularity as mass audiences tired of this kind of portrayal in a post war Britain dealing with retreat, economic decline and decolonisation. Less and less films were being made using the empire as a backdrop. Although those films that were made tended to draw on a much wider range of formats: Romance, Comedies, adventures and even horror have all recently been used. Few people can argue that the empire provides an incredible sweep of peoples, places and personalities for any film maker.
Film Categories
British Empire: Adventure Films
Adventure Films
British Empire: Biography Films
Biographical Films
British Empire: Comedy Films
Comedy Films
British Empire: Documentaries
British Empire: Drama Films
Drama Films
British Empire: Horror Films
Horror Films
British Empire: Romantic Films
Romantic Films
British Empire: War Films
War Films

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by Stephen Luscombe