The BFI National Archive is pleased to announce that the world premiere of a new restoration of a major British silent film, The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927), will be unveiled as the BFI London Film Festival Archive Gala screening, presented in partnership with American Express®, on 16th October 2014, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall followed by a nationwide release in cinemas, with a simultaneous release on BFI Player and later issued on BFI DVD. This virtually unknown film offers a stunning recreation of two key battles faced by the Royal Navy in the early days of World War One, almost exactly a century ago. The battle of Coronel took place on 1 November 1914 and the battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December 1914. The first major engagement between German and British ships at Coronel was a terrible defeat for Britain with the loss of two warships achieved by Admiral Graf von Spee. Later the British responded in a desperate bid to save the morale of a nation at war.
The film will have a stirring new score, commissioned from award-winning composer Simon Dobson, whose previous work includes a musical commemoration of the Penlee lifeboat tragedy. The score will be performed, appropriately, by 24 members of the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines in honour of the 24 members of the band who lost their lives with the sinking of HMS Monmouth at the battle of Coronel.
Directed by Walter Summers, this moving epic of war at sea shows just how the battles were fought. Royal Navy ships were used and filming took place in the open seas around Malta with the Scilly Isles standing in for the Falklands. Scenes of naval warfare have rarely been captured on film with such a degree of authenticity. No models and no trick photography were employed, although some interiors were recreated in the studio. A special screening was held at Balmoral for King George V and critics heaped praise on the film.
This was an age when captains still heroically and tragically went down with their ships, alongside thousands of sailors on both sides who lost their lives.