21/8/1916 “The Battle of the Somme” on general release: the war comes home to Britain and Ireland

In France the Battle of the Somme rages on. In Britain The Battle of the Somme is now appearing on cinema screens across the country. Shot by Geoffrey Malins and J.B. McDowell and edited by Malins and Charles Urban, this film purports to present the real experience of men at the Front to those left behind at home.

Most of footage in the film was taken at the Front in late June and early July, but some images (notably men leaving their trenches to advance towards the enemy) were shot well away from the front line. The footage is edited to present the battle in as positive a light as possible, with plenty of German prisoners and cheerful Tommies shown. However the film-makers cannot hide the less appealing aspects of the battle from their viewers, with some distressing images appearing of injured men and unburied corpses.

The film received its première on the 2nd and now it goes on general release. In a country where everyone has a close friend or family member at the front, interest in the film is tremendous. Box office records are quickly broken as people rush to the cinemas to get a sense of what their soldiers are going through. People are encouraged to keep an eye out for their enlisted loved ones, as they might see them in one of the film’s many scenes of men marching to the Front.

Yet not everyone is so supportive of the film. Because the footage was shot before the battle started and in its early stages, many of the soldiers seen in the film will now have been killed in the fighting. Some worry that viewers will be distressed should they catch a glimpse of a deceased loved one. But the cinema-going public do not heed the sceptics, flocking to the cinema in unprecedented numbers.

Note: after six weeks on release, twenty million people are believed to have seen this film in Britain and Ireland, which I think makes it the most popular film ever shown in these islands.

image source:

Staged scene of soldiers advancing (Wikipedia)

Advertisement (Wikipedia)

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