Other Falklands war revived in silent film restoration

16th October 2014, Comments 0 comments

Decades before the 1982 Falklands War, an epic World War I battle took place off the remote islands, a story captured in a silent cinema gem brought back to life on Thursday.

"The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands", made in 1927, has been painstakingly restored over two years, frame by frame, scratch by scratch, by the British Film Institute (BFI).

The restored version was to be premiered Thursday at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, as part of both the London Film Festival and Britain's commemorations of the 1914-1918 war.

The Battle of Coronel took place between the British and German navies off the central Chilean coast on November 1, 1914, and was the first British defeat at sea in more than a century.

The German imperial fleet was commanded by Vice-Admiral Maximilian von Spee, the British ships by Rear-Admiral Christopher Cradock, who was killed in action.

Britain lost two ships but were to get their revenge in a second encounter just over a month later.

The British sent a superior fleet to restore honour by hunting down and destroying the German squadron.

Spee and two of his sons were killed in the Battle of the Falkland Islands, on December 8, three of the more than 3,000 sailors who perished in the two battles.

The British director Walter Summers, who served in the army during World War I and made a film about British naval hero Horatio Nelson in 1926, got permission from the Admiralty to use real warships for the movie.

Not a single scene in the film was shot using miniature models -- something highly unconventional at the time, said Bryony Dixon, the BFI's silent film curator.

- Film to be screened in Stanley -

"It's very well made, it's very ambitious in scale. For a British movie of that period it is very ambitious," Dixon told AFP.

"It was all shot in these huge ships at sea, it's very unusual. There were some previous efforts to do battle reconstructions of the First World War but they relied on model shots and diagrams.

"It's just a very elegantly-put-together film," she said, noting that the editing style was reminiscent of the French director Abel Gance, who produced some of the blockbusters of the era, including the "Napoleon" epic (1927).

Rather than filming round the Falklands in the South Atlantic Ocean, the Isles of Scilly off the southwest English coast stood in for the barren archipelago, while other scenes were shot off Malta.

The Falklands, known as the Malvinas in Argentina, have been under British control since the 19th century.

In 1982, Britain and Argentina fought a 10-week war for control of the islands in which nearly 1,000 people were killed and an Argentine and a British warship were sunk.

The film will be shown in the Falklands' capital Stanley in December, while plans to screen it in Scilly have been greeted with enthusiasm.

The epic silent film was very successful in its day, and came out just on the cusp of "talkies".

Despite its renown, Summers is not among Britain's most famous directors and is best known abroad for "The Dark Eyes of London" (1939), which starred Bela Lugosi.

"The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands" was last shown in cinemas more than 40 years ago. The restoration took two years and was fraught with difficulties.

"We were working on a copy of the negative that was made in the 1970s and quite a lot of the damage was already printed in, so we had to do quite a lot of digital work," said Dixon.

"The biggest problem was to clean up some mould damage.

"It has to be cleaned up by hand by a lot of people in a lab. It's a long and expensive process."

© 2014 AFP

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