Book Review


The Great War in Popular British Cinema of the 1920s by Lawrence Napper

The 1920s was long seen as a dormant era in British cinema. The industry was flattened by the Hollywood juggernaut and could only produce a few low-budget parochial films of no real interest apart from the odd Hitchcock. It took the Quota and talkies to wake the business up and make it interesting again.

That view is slowly changing. The British Silent Film Festival has played a big part in this, dragging the films out of the archives and showing the range of product presented to the public. Greater access has lead to greater interest and academics have done a lot of work on both on the films themselves and the business strategies behind their creation. Some high profile restorations by the BFI have also helped raise interest in the era. Now Lawrence Napper takes on the last big genre of the era: 20s war films.

Drawing on contemporary accounts and modern academic work on the social history of the period, Napper paints a picture of an audience trying to make sense of the Great War and an industry trying to respond to their needs.

The central part of the book focuses on British Instructional's series of battle reconstructions released to coincide with the annual Remembrance Day commemorations. Napper charts their development from strict documentary reconstructions to films featuring more human stories to make them closer to the standards of fiction films. And all the while avoiding the trap of being too Hollywood.

Other sections examine films focusing on remembrance and those featuring men damaged by the war or whose issues can be seen as examining the problems of returned men. The book also examines the Industry's response to those returned men quickly going from wanting to aid them back into employment to backtracking when it realised the scale of the problem.

Napper's book fills a big gap in British cinema history and shows how a neglected era can be as rich in interest as more familiar eras. 

The Great War in Popular British Cinema of the 1920s

Pub: Palgrave Macmillan

ISBN: 978-0-230-37170-5

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The Great War in Popular British Cinema of the 1920s