Archive Gala

The Great Victorian Moving Picture Show

120 years in the waiting... we bring you Britain’s earliest films at their grandest scale, on the nation’s biggest screen, the BFI IMAX.

UK Distribution BFI Distribution

You won’t believe your eyes at the sheer spectacle of these rare surviving fragments of our first films, back to their best after being superbly restored from the 68mm original nitrate prints by the BFI National Archive. Let us transport you to a London at the end of Victoria’s long reign, when competing showmen were projecting their moving pictures in the capital’s great West End theatres. Among the front runners was the peerless WKL Dickson, whose British Mutoscope and Biograph Company enjoyed a long residency at the Palace Theatre of Varieties (now the Palace Theatre on Cambridge Circus and home to another magician – Harry Potter). Dickson arrived in London in 1897 with his secret weapon: large-format films – the IMAX films of their day – whose high-quality pictures he hoped would outgun his rivals. At only a minute or so in duration, these films serve up an eclectic array of subjects, from gorgeous panoramic vistas to dizzying ‘phantom rides’, music hall turns to the pomp of royal pageantry, and the bustle of the Victorian street to dramatic dispatches from the Boer War. The screening will be presided over by BFI curator Bryony Dixon, with music from composer/pianist John Sweeney and his Biograph Band.

Robin Baker

Additional information

The restoration of the films in this programme was supported by the Eric Anker-Petersen Charity. With additional support from the Michael Marks Charitable Trust and the John S Cohen Foundation. Films by the British Mutoscope and Biograph Company, Prestwich and Gaumont all restored in 2018 by BFI National Archive in collaboration with EYE Filmmuseum and Haghefilm.