Jubilee on Film: BFI Player unveils royal collection
James R | On 29, May 2022
The mark Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee, BFI Player has launched a new Jubilee on Film collection, shining a spotlight on national royal events dating back to the earliest days of film.
From Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897 via King George V’s silver jubilee in 1935 to Queen Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee in 1977, the collection of more than 50 titles shows how royal Jubilee celebrations have been captured on camera over the past 125 years and enjoyed nationwide, from idyllic villages such as Aberbeeg, Cotton, Great Hucklow, Kegworth, Welford and Weston on Avon to towns and cities the length and breadth of the UK including Bath, Bognor Regis, Brighton, Cardiff, Clacton, Leeds, Middlesborough, Nottingham, Plymouth, South Shields, Tredegar and Wolverhampton. The collection also charts the development of the medium itself from professional cameramen to cine enthusiasts and cinema clubs to individual home movies.
Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee on 20th June 1897 brought the nascent film industry to London, with over 40 camera operators attending for film companies from around the world, all looking to document scenes from the official procession at various locations along the route, providing an official record of the day’s ceremony to sell to audiences across the globe. Pioneer filmmakers including RW Paul, who positioned 3 cameras along the route, invested and competed for the best vantage points of the lavish pageant, hoping to get a glimpse of Queen Victoria herself, as well as the parading troops and dignitaries.
The unique (silent) fragments that remain of these films are preserved by the BFI National Archive. As well as the procession itself they also capture the jubilant crowds, with thousands of spectators lining the route, hanging out of windows, waving handkerchiefs, each person swept up by the excitement of the occasion. You can almost hear the roar of the crowd’s cheers as the monarch’s carriage passes on her way to St Paul’s.
By the time of George V’s silver jubilee on 6th May 1935, a new generation of amateur cine-enthusiasts were picking up cameras to film Jubilee celebrations across the UK to show locally in cinemas and cine societies. The focus shifts to capturing public participatory events, including children as well as adults, from village fetes, carnival parades, sports days and street parties to larger scale civic pageants and well-choreographed displays in towns and cities including Bognor Regis, Cardiff, London, Plymouth and Wolverhampton.
Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee official celebration on 7th June 1977 was televised for hundreds of millions worldwide. Captured in glorious colour these films showcase home movies, preserving personal memories of Jubilee events and local news reports, including coverage of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee tour to towns and cities nationwide over the summer, plus a record of all the planning and preparation which took place. Over 12 thousand community groups organised street parties across the UK to mark the occasion. These films offer individual snapshots of a memorable June day where local communities in villages, towns and cities came together up and down the country to celebrate the Silver Jubilee with tables laden with food and drink, streets festooned in metres of bunting, imaginative fancy dress, family fun including cameos from 1970s classics such as space hoppers and chopper bikes, fireworks, fetes and more. Even a spot of rain didn’t appear to dampen people’s spirits.
25 years later, cheaper camcorders video-recorded similar events held for the golden jubilee in 2002 and mobile phone created content for the diamond jubilee in 2012. In 2022, many will still watch the platinum jubilee celebrations on TV, but people will also be filming events digitally on tablets or mobile phones on a variety of platforms, marking a notable contrast with the fragments preserved by the BFI National Archive originally shot at Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, 125 years ago.
Arike Oke, BFI Executive Director of Knowledge and Collections says: “Working to fulfil the promise of our Royal Charter to promote moving image arts as a record of contemporary life, while also sharing the stories of yesterday and today, the BFI National Archive’s collections are for everyone, anywhere. The free Jubilee collection comes at a time when we at the BFI begin to look ahead to the future, exploring new ways to connect with audiences, creators, and the wider public. I hope that we hear back from the public on how the Jubilee collection touches them as we delve ever further into ways to deepen and enrich the connections between people and our moving image heritage.”
The collection is available for free on BFI Player.