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KS3/4 Citizenship: Island People (1940)

What might a film about the 'British character' look like today?

Main image of KS3/4 Citizenship: Island People (1940)
Author Poppy Simpson
Key Words British character, citizenship
Show full lesson spec

A portrait of 1940s working Britain as a society in which shared values transcend contrasts of geography and divisions of class

Island People is made up of three main sections: a survey of 'working Britain', an introduction to a variety of characters that represent a cross section of the British population and finally, a look at the leisure time of people across the country. Using these three parts, the film weaves together a story about the 'British character'.

In this lesson students are asked to think about how Britain has changed since Island People was made and to update the film to reflect a Britain or a 'British character' that they identify with.

Lesson Objective

  • To develop student's own ideas about 'Britishness' and what it means to be British into a film idea, using narration and moving images.


Begin by giving students a copy of the Island People transcript. Ask them to read through the text, in pairs, noting down the images and music they might expect to see and hear in the film, giving reasons for their ideas. You might want to make this task more manageable by breaking the transcript down into smaller sections. However, as students feed back their ideas to the whole class, they should be able to see a full copy of the text (on the board or in front of them) so that they understand the transcript as a whole.

Now, watch the film through as a class, allowing students to compare their ideas with the images and score used - they could note down their observations in a different colour alongside their ideas.

This can lead into a discussion about the origin of the film. When do students think Island People was made? Why? Who do they think made the film? What do students think the purpose of Island People is?

Once you have drawn out the fact that Island People was made during WWII, at a time when the government wanted to promote a sense of national unity and pride, encourage students to think about the central message of the film: Can they summarise Island People's message in no more than two sentences? What might the 'tag-line' be on a DVD cover of the film? As an alternative, ask students to write a 'definition' of the British character according to the film.


Main Attraction

Now it's time for students to plan an update or adaptation of Island People. Lead a whole group discussion focused around the question: How might you update or adapt Island People to represent a Britain that you recognise and feel part of? Prompt questions might include: How does contemporary 'working Britain' differ from that of the film? What hobbies, activities, sports etc. do you most strongly associate with Britain? What do you think the key characteristics the 'British character' are? Do you think that the concept is out of date?

Challenge students to work in small groups to come up with a pitch for a short film, also entitled Island People. Their film idea can follow a similar structure to the original film or take on a different form entirely. However, there are two main criteria:

  • the film can be no longer than 3 minutes
  • the film has to be narrated, using images and music to accompany a voice over

Each group must prepare a short script, along with a 'pitch' for their film that gives some idea of the visual images and sounds the audience might experience.

Students will likely find the breadth of this task a little daunting and will need some support in structuring and developing their ideas. Encourage them to brainstorm around certain themes - Geography/National Symbols/Cultural habits and behaviours/People/Values and Attitudes/Language/British Achievements. Resource one is a worksheet for this purpose.

You might also want to use the card sort (resource two) to stimulate students' ideas - what other 'cards' can they think of? There is also a wide range of useful websites to support students' research, including the National Statistics and Directgov sites.

Once a group has finished its research, they should complete Planning your film (resource three) and prepare a short pitch that offers an overview of the message and tone of their film.


End Credits

Ask groups to present their ideas to the rest of the class. How might groups adapt their ideas, having listened to their peers' feed back? What are the main similarities and differences between the various ideas? Is there any class consensus on how to represent 'Britishness' today?


External Links

Video Clips
Complete film (9:54)
Downloadable Teaching Resources
Island People Transcript
Thinking About Britain
Card Sort
Planning Your Film

Related Films and TV programmes

See also

Thumbnail image of Essentially British?: Island People (1940)Essentially British?: Island People (1940)

Material to accompany the BFI Mediatheque 'Essentially British' DVD.