[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Belfast’s St Anne’s Cathedral will be the spectacular setting for a new screening of a 100-year-old silent film that depicts the horror of World War I. Some 20 million people saw the film, The Battle of the Somme, when it was released in the Autumn of 1916 – half the population of Britain at the time. It remains one of the most watched films in British cinema history – topping even Star Wars.
Next Thursday (15 September) it will be shown in the cathedral as part of the Belfast Film Festival; with a new score by Laura Rossi, commissioned by the UK’s Imperial War Museum to mark the 90th anniversary 10 years ago.
“Smiling awkwardly at the new–fangled cameras, troops move towards the Front in the Great War,” a cathedral spokesperson said. “Their actions are far removed from the swagger and march of war films, but then this is real.
“The Battle of the Somme was different from the newsreels of the day. It took footage of actual events and turned it into a main feature with mass appeal.
“The film gave its 1916 audience an unprecedented insight into the realities of trench warfare, controversially including the depiction of dead and wounded soldiers. It shows scenes of the build-up to the infantry offensive including the massive preliminary bombardment, coverage of the first day of the battle – the bloodiest single day in Britain’s military history – and depictions of the small gains and massive costs of the attack.”
The footage was filmed by Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell, official cinematographers for the British government, to demonstrate the country’s commitment to the First World War. It is the source of many of the most iconic images of that war.
“We are thrilled to be taking part in this UK–wide commemoration of the battle of the Somme’s centenary,” Belfast Film Festival director Michele Devlin said. “Cinema was at the height of its popularity in 1916, but The Battle of the Somme very much pushed the boundaries of silent film at that time.
“St Anne’s will provide a poignant backdrop to our screening, and I’m particularly looking forward to hearing the film’s acclaimed score reverberating around the cathedral.”