Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Peril of The Fleet, The (1909)

British Film Institute

Main image of Peril of The Fleet, The (1909)
35mm, black & white, 535 feet, silent
DirectorS. Wormald
Production CompanyLondon Cinematograph Company

A detective foils attempts by foreign spies to blow up the British fleet moored at Southampton.

Show full synopsis

Peril of the Fleet can be claimed as the first true British spy film and was reviewed as an 'intensely sensational story'. The film company, seizing on the filmic opportunity of a review of the Royal Navy fleet at Spithead in 1909 (staged for the imperial conference to discuss imperial naval policy), scripted a story about an attempt by foreign spies to destroy the fleet.

All the elements of the invasion literature of the period and the developing spy story are present. The threat to British naval superiority by unnamed foreign powers is clearly shown. Spies (in the usual stereotyped beard disguise), aided by a woman, plan the operation. They are foiled by a detective (by luck rather than skill, emphasising the gentleman-amateur rather than the cunning organisation of the foreigner). The detective saves the fleet, with moments to spare, and Britain is saved from future invasion. It can be said that the other elements of the developing genre, such as secret weapons and the use of latest technologies, are missing. However, the fleet is nearly destroyed by using the careful system of sea mines designed to protect it from attack. The film company makes good use of the opportunity of the naval review to add authenticity, including actuality scenes of the fleet showing the battleships Agamemnon and Irresistible. To demonstrate that the fleet is safe, the aptly named Drake is shown at anchor at the end of the film.

Ironically, the NFTVA's copy has German inter-titles, as does The Invaders (1909). While Germany was seen as Britain's main rival (for naval and commercial power, as well as in international relations), the film company was quite prepared to profit by distributing its product there. The origin of the spies is not identified in the film (in common with other pre-WWI spy films). Not until the declaration of war were the spies identified, in such films as The German Spy Peril (1914), Huns of the North Sea (1914) and The Kaiser's Spies (1914).

Simon Baker

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (7:37)
A Year in Film: 1909
Early Spy Films