First World War’s The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Makes Its Screen Debut

One hundred years ago, Britain experienced its first naval defeat after more than a century of flaunting its supremacy. The British and German navies were in a battle that saw Britain losing to the Germans. One HMS Monmouth and one HMS Good Hope ships were lost in the battle that took place near Coronel – off the coast of Chile. Lost with the two ships were about 1,600 people on board. It was 7,500 miles away from London and the date was November 1st 1914.

It was the Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands and a British war film was made out of it. Walter Summers, the film’s director was a World War One hero. Ships used for production were on loan from the Royal Navy. And according to reports by the Daily Mail, even the Germans like it.  The never seen before film was produced in 1927, thirteen years after the war was fought as part of First World War. And it is now about to be released by British Film Institute (BFI)in memory of the start of the First World War.

To regain ground the British Royal Navy responded by sending out other battle cruisers, the HMS Inflexible and HMS Invincible. When the British faced the German a second time, it was alleged to be a tie battle as the British were well prepared.

The film was produced as an anthem to Navy values under pressure and not as a story of revenge. According to Dr Lawrence Napper of King’s College London, even though Hollywood has been releasing British war films before this film was made in 1927, the British audience has always laughed at American films as they were considered very unrealistic. He explained that the uniforms for instance were non-British and American troops would be seen fighting battles they never took part in.

According to Napper, while previous war films had brave heroes, in real war there are no recognizable heroes as it is all about building pressure and pursuit. And that is what the Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands is all about.

Bryony Dixon, a silent film curator at the BFI has all good things to say about the film as he talked about all the attention that were paid into details such as stylish shots of the glittering water, the ticking clock, buckets of the coal unit, calendars and several other things.

The battles in film is said to look believable and it is credited to the Admiralty support and the Royal Navy contribution for lending their ships. The film was not made to celebrate an individual hero but was made as a memorial to the Navy, says Dixon.

Another thing that makes this First World War film believable is the fact that the director was a soldier that fought in the war. Walter Summers battled at Ypres and the Somme and later became a Lieutenant who received a Military Cross. According to Dixon, Summers knew what it was like to be in a battlefield and it can be seen in the film. Summers was described by a fellow soldier as a brave and exceptional soldier who liked frightening the enemy by crawling about in No Man’s Land.

Since leaving the army, about 40 films have been directed by Summers and a majority of them are based on military themes. He’s is said to still have the desire to fight again and have tried several times to enlist himself in the military, The Guardian reports.

According to Napper, this was the film that changed Caroline Alice Lejeune’s mind about war films. Legune was a film critic who worked with the Manchester Guardian and was formerly opposed to war films as she believes they were dangerous and can result to stirring military desires in the audience.

The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands is set to be screened at the London film festival Archive Gala on 16 October 2014. It will be available in selected cinemas across the UK a day after the screening at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The First World War film will also be accessible on BFI Player.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE