Sunday, 30 March 2008

Festival in London 1951: DVD Review

‘Festival in London 1951’ is a film that probably could not and would not be made in this politically correct age: for surely it is deemed unacceptable to sing the praises of Great Britain – be it our accomplishments at home and abroad, or in the scientific, artistic and manufacturing arenas. And besides we have come to belittle so much of our history, our achievements and our historical personages.

The Festival of Britain was held exactly one hundred years after the Great Exhibition in London so it is not surprising that the film begins with a series of paintings from 1851. However the images soon cut to the ‘present’ with a long view of Big Ben and the Thames. Soon the viewer can see the South Bank site with the well known Skylon and the Festival buildings- including the then new Royal Festival Hall.

It must be remembered that this was only six years after the end of the Second World War. The country still had rationing and life was lived in ‘austerity.’ The Labour government of Clement Atlee was struggling with debt - in spite of the Marshall Plan devised by the United States to assist Europe to rise from the ruins of six years of conflict. So it is a very positive production.
The motto of this film is telling-
This is the Festival,
Something Britain devised,
Halfway through this century,
As a milestone between past and future,
To enrich and enliven the present.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Francis Fisher, Baron Fisher of Lambeth, wrote in the Festival Programme book: “The chief and governing purpose of the Festival is to declare our belief and trust in the British way of life, not with any boastful self-confidence nor with any aggressive self-advertisement, but with sober and humble trust that by holding fast to that which is good and rejecting from our midst that which is evil we may continue to be a nation at unity in itself and of service to the world. It is good at a time like the present so to strengthen, and in part to recover, our hold on the abiding principles of all that is best in our national life.” Words that I doubt the present incumbent of that post would care to utter today.

The shot location is basically what is now deemed the South Bank and the funfair at Battersea Pleasure Gardens.
Throughout this film the music of William Alwyn runs as a thread. The great ‘trio’ tune of the March is heard juxtaposed with images of the Lion and the Unicorn. Interestingly we are reminded that the Lion is our Strength and the Unicorn is our imagination. We are encouraged to look at images of the crown, of the scales of justice and our national flags. The commentary describes the British belief in “tradition, peace, justice’ and now politically incorrectly “the nobler matters of patriotism.”

A variety of British achievements are noted including our great authors, the progress of science with such things as jet engines, atomic research and new manufacturing methods. The caring side of the nation is noted with reference to Florence Nightingale.

The final part of the film explores the Battersea Pleasure Gardens. Lots of things for children of all ages to discover. The Guinness clock, the fairground rides, the ‘Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway,’ the candy floss and the boating lake. Perhaps these were simpler pleasures for people who were young long before the Gamesboy was invented?
The film concludes with night time shots of the river, the funfair and a firework display.
I heartily recommend this film: it is a fine portrait of how we were some 57 years ago – with our hopes and aspirations intact but never forgetting that life can be full of fun as well as rejoicing in our noble achievements and productive manufacturing. It may not have been a golden age -but this film certainly warms the heart.

‘Festival in Britian’ is available on DVD from Moviemail

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