Monday 24 October 2016

Historic film The Battle Of The Somme to be shown to mark centenary

Published 05/04/2016 | 15:26

British artillery in action during the Battle of the Somme
British artillery in action during the Battle of the Somme

The world's first feature length war documentary is to be shown in hundreds of venues to mark the centenary of the First World War's Battle of the Somme.

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Some 20 million people watched the film, The Battle Of The Somme, when it was released in 1916 with footage of the British preparations for the "big push" and the opening stages of what became one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

A hundred years on the film, listed by world heritage body Unesco in its "memory of the world" record, will be shown by 126 organisations in the UK and 84 overseas, the Imperial War Museum (IWM) announced as it unveiled its programme of events to mark the Somme.

Events include a major new exhibition exploring war movies from The Battle Of The Somme to The Dam Busters, Lawrence Of Arabia and Saving Private Ryan at Imperial War Museum, London, and a free commemorative evening at the museum on June 30 - the eve of the anniversary.

There will also be screenings around the country of the film accompanied by live orchestras playing the score composed by Laura Rossi for the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

Beginning on July 1 1916 and intended to achieve a decisive victory for the British and French, the Somme became a bloody stalemate on battlegrounds that turned into a muddy quagmire after torrential rains in October of that year.

It claimed almost 20,000 British lives on the first day alone and there were more than a million casualties on both sides by the time it ended after 141 days on November 18 1916.

The Battle Of The Somme film is propaganda in nature, with a focus on how well-equipped British soldiers were, the quality of weapons such as Howitzers and the good treatment of the wounded and German prisoners.

But while some scenes - such as the one where soldiers go "over the top" into battle - were staged, it still stands as a historical record of the conflict.

The black and white shots filmed by cameramen Geoffrey Malins and J B McDowell include smiling soldiers marching, fixing wire cutters to their rifles and firing shells, the wounded being bandaged up and given a cigarette, and death and destruction on the front line.

Gill Webber, executive director of content and programming at IWM, said: "Shot and screened in 1916, T he Battle Of The Somme was the first feature length documentary about war, and it changed the way both cinema and film were perceived by the public.

"In the year of its release around 20 million people, half the population of the UK at the time, saw the film, many hoping to see an image of family or friends."

A hundred years later the "unique" film is being shown by a partnership led by the IWM at venues including universities, libraries, town and village halls, churches and museums, as well as 82 British embassies, and museums in the Republic of Ireland and Germany.

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