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KS3/4 Citizenship: Soldier's Return, The (1902)

Compare and contrast representations of soldiers in 3 different types of film

Main image of KS3/4 Citizenship: Soldier's Return, The (1902)
AuthorGemma Starkey BFI
TopicReturning from War
Key Words war, soldier, remembrance, Vietnam, Lille, Boer War, patriotism, social-realism
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Two very different extracts exploring soldiers returning home from war.

Both The Soldier's Return and I was a Soldier explore life after war. By comparing, what first appears to be two very different films, it should become clear that both have comparable agendas - to portray, through individual stories, the effect of war on the ordinary person.

In this lesson students are asked to think about the impact of war on soldiers using different types of film sources. They are encouraged to make links between films, as well as the past and present, in order to extrapolate possible meanings and motivation.

Lesson Objective

  • This lesson asks students to consider the impact of war by analysing different sources and drawing on their own knowledge and experience. It also asks them to consider the technological advancements in film over time, and evaluate the importance of historical context when making these judgements.


Without revealing the title, play The Soldiers Return, and ask students to note down their initial thoughts about the film - they should focus on setting, possible date, characters, storyline, sequence and composition (colour and sound). Now show them the clip, Back Home, from I was a Soldier, similarly do not provide any contextualisation for the film. Again ask them to consider the same points. In pairs, students should then compare and contrast both films and make a list of their similarities and differences. This should be then be fed back to the class - it might help to capture their ideas on the board.

  1. What do they think the films are about?
  2. Can they trace the common theme?
  3. What dates do they think these films were made?
  4. Do they see anything significant in these dates?

Main Attraction

The Soldier's Return, made in 1902, is significant in the history of British film because it's one of the first to try and tell a narrative story, in this case, one drawn on actual events - the return of soldiers from the Boer War. Similarly I was a Soldier was made at the height of the Vietnam conflict.

This should lead into a discussion about both wars - you may want to give students some basic information about each conflict or encourage them to do their own research.

Filmmakers have always been influenced by contemporary events - ask the students to suggest some films and television programmes which have been inspired by recent conflicts, e.g. A Taxi to the Dark Side, BBC 1's Occupation, A Mighty Heart.

Why do they think filmmakers are so inspired by contemporary issues? What do they think their intention could be in making these kinds of films?

Now go back to the two extracts they watched at the beginning of the lesson - it might be worthwhile for them to see another of the clips from I was a Soldier.

Ask the students to put themselves in the position of director. How might they have pitched their film to a production company? Ask them to produce a one line pitch for each film - they should think about each piece's distinct appeal; alongside theme/plot/character and why it might be considered innovative, revelatory, etc. (Note: Michael Grigsby, director of I was a Soldier, was dedicated to giving a 'voice to the voiceless', while James Williamson described his film as 'a bit of real life', in his attempts at representing the effect of war on the British working class).


End Credits

Show the students the film The Deliverance of Lille by Haig's Men (1918).

  • What is the film's tone/mood/focus?

This film was made to celebrate Lille's liberation by British troops after four years of German occupation.

What is significant about the date of the film? Unlike the other two films, this is a newsreel made at a time of an increasing sense of confidence by British forces as they were close to winning the war.

How do students think these considerations affect the look and feel of the film? What do they think was the film's message to audiences back home?

  • How does this film compare to the other two they've already analysed?

External Links
Grigsby Interview at the BFI

Video Clips
1. Back home (5:09)
Complete film (2:29)
Downloadable Teaching Resources

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Soldier's Return, The (1902)Soldier's Return, The (1902)

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Thumbnail image of Topical Budget 374-2: The Deliverance of Lille by Haig's Men (1918)Topical Budget 374-2: The Deliverance of Lille by Haig's Men (1918)

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Thumbnail image of I Was a Soldier (1970)I Was a Soldier (1970)

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See also