Positive images of war : a study of British First World War newsreels.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The First World War represents a monumental and defining moment in the twentieth century, where historians continue to argue over its significance and impact on contemporary social and political culture in modern scholarship. Despite the extensive examination of both propaganda and cinema during this period, scholarship of newsreels remains scarce. This thesis examines this gap in historiography, arguing that newsreels provided a directed and positive image of war, which reinforced social structures within British society and set a visual precedent to how Britons should function during the war.
The moving image or newsreel represented a key facet of British leisure past-times. Newsreels were depicted in cinemas before, during breaks and after feature productions in cinemas and in other social and educational environments throughout Britain. Newsreels were shown bi-weekly in cinemas, making them a key aspect of what Britons saw of the war, whether it was on the home and on the war fronts. Newsreels also depicted what was considered ‘topical’ at different times during the war. This thesis discusses two of the three most popular producers during this period: The Topical Film Company and Pathé Gazette. Despite institutional studies of the former British based producer, the content of their newsreels remains overlooked. Even though Topical Budget was absorbed by the War Office, becoming the main outlet for film domestic propaganda in 1917, historians have still left its content unexamined as it was viewed as ephemera. Conversely, other sensationalistic aspects of British propaganda, such as atrocity material, have received greater observation when modern studies demonstrate that such material was a minority. This research quantitatively and qualitatively examines newsreel material, identifying what was, and also what was not being depicted to contemporary British audiences.
This thesis covers the institutional development of British cinema with an emphasis on newsreels, demonstrating that they developed as the result of increasing public popularity, governmental propagandistic policies and their potential for gaining revenue. Subsequent discussion is split thematically, covering the depiction of gender and convalescent soldiers, the representation of smiling German and British troops, critical voices of war, and the British home front. This thesis argues that First World War British newsreels provided a positive and directed image of war, which was shaped with the purposes of creating a precedent to acceptable wartime practices and also maintaining and expanding public morale.