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Essentially British?: Return to Life (1960)
In the Classroom


Watch the few minutes of the film, which looks at refugees in Britain in the past, in particular the Huguenots (watch up to the point at which the family arrives by coach to a country residence). What do your students know about the different reasons why refugees leave their native countries? What can they learn from the film? It's also a chance to build on the film's survey of refugees to Britain in the past. Why not set students off on some group work looking at particular refugee groups who have settled in Britain - their experience and their impact. Can they produce a basic timeline after a lesson's research?

This might be extended to look at immigration to Britain as well. The Moving Here website is a fantastic resource for looking at some of the different immigrant groups that have come to England and Britain. Why not ask students to compare and contrast the experiences of different immigrant or refugee groups. Alternatively, they might be asked to chronicle the impact of a particular community in a particular area of the country.

You could also use the film as a basis for looking at the reasons why Eastern European refugees left their native lands for England and the US. How does students' knowledge of the Cold War and/or the early 1960's shed light on the film? What was happening in Eastern Europe around this time? How might Joseph and his family have escaped and why might they have chosen to flee to Britain? How does the film suggest they were treated when they arrived? Refuge England (1959) in Screenonline offers a good point of comparison here.

Forced and voluntary migration is a major theme in twentieth century history. How does the story told in this film shed light on the bigger picture of mass migration? At Key Stage 4 you might ask students to look compare immigration to the US in the 1920's with the information they can glean from this film and their own knowledge of the period.

Useful films for comparison

  • Refuge England (1959): a refugee's first day in London.
  • I'm British But... (1999): young British Asians discuss their plural identities.
  • Springtime in an English Village (1948): a young black girl is crowned Queen of the May in this Colonial Film Board production.


This is an enormously sensitive film which explores some of the difficulties involved in integrating and assimilating into a new culture. What do students learn about some of the problems refugees face when arriving in a new country from this film? Do they think some of these problems will decrease as time goes by? What new problems might occur once a refugee family has settled in a new country for some time?

There is also scope to look at how people apply for asylum today - perhaps comparing this with the information contained in the film. Where are refugees coming from and what are their reasons for applying to live in Britain? This is especially relevant given the current debate over immigration and asylum. Do students understand the distinction between immigration and asylum? What different types of immigration and asylum are there (ie. legal, illegal)

Ask students to read through a range of different articles (opinion pieces as well as news stories from a variety of newspapers or online sources). What do they notice about the current debate surrounding immigration and asylum? Given their own ideas about the topic, how do they think the two issues are represented to the public?

At key stage 4, this film could act as the starting point for looking at the origins and implications of the diverse religious and ethnic identities in the UK today. Again, the Moving Here website is an excellent supporting resource.

Useful films for comparison

  • Springtime in an English Village (1948): a young black girl is crowned Queen of the May in this Colonial Film Board production.
  • Refuge England (1959): a refugee's first day in London.
  • I'm British But... (1989): for more on plural identities (regional, religious and ethnic).
  • White Tribe (2000) Clip two: an example of some English people feel part of an 'opressed minority'.