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KS3/4 History: Christmas Under Fire (1941)

Probe this piece of wartime propaganda!

Main image of KS3/4 History: Christmas Under Fire (1941)
Author Poppy Simpson, BFI
Key WordsBlitz, Ministry of Information, World War II
Show full lesson spec

England is celebrating Christmas in 1940 despite likely bombings in this WWII propaganda film for exhibition across the pond.

A fantastic example of wartime propaganda, Christmas Under Fire (1941) is particularly interesting in that it was aimed at an American audience at a time when the US had not joined the Allied effort. There's lots of potential to work on student's enquiry skills as well as source analysis and evaluation. Why not compare and contrast the film with other examples of WWII propaganda?

This lesson idea gets students to really examine the layers of implication present in most moving image propaganda.

Lesson Objective

  • To examine how the various elements of the film (sound, visuals and voiceover) work together to drive a particular message or set of messages.


Watch the film through without any introduction. Once the film has finished, run through a quick see/infer exercise focused around particular scenes. For example: I saw London shops opening when there was bomb damage nearby, I inferred that London shopkeepers are brave.

Having discussed students' ideas, investigate the provenance of the source. Did students pick up on who commissioned the film? Who was the intended audience? When was it made and what is the significance of the year? Why is it likely to have been made?


Main Attraction

Having established that Christmas Under Fire is a propaganda film, made at a time when the US had not joined the conflict, it's time to probe a little deeper.

Give students a copy of the film's transcript and ask them to go through the text highlighting passages, phrases or words that contribute to the propagandist tone of the piece; for example, alliteration, biblical references, mention of children, repetition, 'loaded' words such as 'terrorism'. This work could be done in pairs and lead into a whole class discussion.

Having considered the voiceover text in detail, move onto the images used throughout the film. How do the v/o and moving images work together? Can students offer examples of where the combination of image and v/o is much more emotive and powerful than when these elements are looked at in isolation. For example; as a small child writes a simple Christmas card to her absent father, the narrator says "Christmas here this year won't perhaps be the Christmas children in America will be lucky enough to enjoy". Explore the layers of implication created by this and similar combinations of moving image and narration.

Finally, it's time to consider the non-diegetic sound (ie. the 'score' or the sound that is not generated within the moving images). For instance, we see the choristers of King's College at the start and finish of the film, but their voices are carried over as the soundtrack to the final shot. Discuss why the filmmaker may have chosen to include the choristers and the impact this has on the tone of the film.

Students should now have a detailed understanding of some of how the various elements of this film work together to shape the tone of the film. Now, challenge students write what might have been the original brief from the Ministry of Information that led to the creation of the film.

In order to do this, students will be need to:

  • Explain the purpose of the film and the intended audience
  • Suggest a date for release of the film and explain the significance of the timing
  • Explain the central message of the film
  • Make suggestions about the kinds of images that could be used (taking their lead from the images actually used but using their own knowledge of the impact of war on Britain as well)
  • Make suggestions about the tone of the narration

The MoI had two primary aims during WWII: the censorship of news media, and the creation of pro-Allied propaganda for both home and overseas audiences. Students should make at least one reference in their brief to the kind of information/images that the film will NOT be allowed to include.


End Credits

Challenge students to think about how Britain and the British might be portrayed by the government today, if it was to make a short film for foreign consumption. What might be the central message of such a film?


External Links

Video Clips
Complete film (9:38)
Downloadable Teaching Resources
Christmas Under Fire transcript

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Christmas Under Fire (1941)Christmas Under Fire (1941)

Read more about this film

See also

Thumbnail image of Essentially British?: Christmas Under Fire (1941)Essentially British?: Christmas Under Fire (1941)

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