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Falklands: The Story (1948)


Main image of Falklands: The Story (1948)
35mm, 10 min, black & white
Production CompanyEditorial Film Productions
SponsorsCentral Office of Information
 Colonial Office

The development of the Falkland Island Dependencies since they came under British sovereignty.

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In the early 1940s the Argentinian, British and Chilean governments, claiming overlapping slices of Antarctica, played out a semi-farcical flag-planting contest there. The British eventually mounted a secret expedition, Operation Tabarin, to establish permanent bases in the territory and thereby strengthen their claim. At the end of the war, this became the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey.

Argentina responded by taking advantage of Britiain's postwar naval review in 1947 to build its own outposts. Then, in February 1948, Chilean president Gabriel González Videla arrived in the Antarctic to stake Chile's claim in person, opening a Chilean base. With the Chilean and Argentinian navies already active in the area, Britain despatched several warships of its own. Abruptly, it seemed as if the diplomatic pushing and shoving might erupt into war.

Some time earlier, the Colonial Office had arranged for cameramen to travel to the Antarctic and document the work of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey. The footage was passed to the COI, who commissioned Editorial Films to edit it into a one-reeler.

In response to the Videla incident, it was hurriedly re-written to promote the British position and rubbish Argentinian and Chilean claims. The mention of 'one president and five admirals' in the film's opening sets the bantering but evasive tone. More direct references to 'illegal bases' established by Argentina and Chile were excised from the draft script, as was a joke about seal meat tasting better with chilli sauce.

Similar discretion was at work in the footage of U.S. explorer Finn Ronne being welcomed by the British. Ronne's excursions in the Dependencies were in fact resented. His activities at Marguerite Bay, already home to a British outpost, caused such tension that at one point he was forced to issue a non-fraternisation order to his team.

The U.S. made no territorial claims in the Antarctic; but neither did it recognise any, and it was very active there, mounting the largest (and most militarised) expeditions of any nation. Rumour had it that it had located Uranium deposits in the Antarctic, or intended to test atom bombs there.

The Chileans and Argentinians appealed to the U.S. for military assistance, invoking the Rio Treaty, a pan-American defence pact which had been signed the previous year. Unsurprisingly, this went unanswered. However, the compromise the U.S. eventually brokered - banning warships from all three nations from Antarctic waters - arguably levelled the playing-field in their favour.

Keith Shuaib

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Complete film (9:20)
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