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A Year in Film: 1910

The continuing evolution of British film

Main image of A Year in Film: 1910

Strictly, 1910 was the year the Edwardian age came to an end, although in fact historians tend to see the years up to the Great War as part of the same era. Like France's Belle Époque (which overlaps, but extends back into the 19th century), it was a period of growing prosperity, class struggle, increasing mobility and invention - with innovations including aviation, the motor car, x-rays, psychoanalysis, the mass media, the phonograph, physics, polar exploration, radio and countless others. The death of Edward VII was a major event for the cinema with many film companies covering the occasion in very much the same way as they had done for Queen Victoria's funeral a decade earlier.

For the most part, production continued much as it had in previous years to supply exhibitors with a mixed programme of actualities, interest films, one-reel dramas and comedies. Britain produced 620 titles in 1910, of which an impressive 300 survive in the BFI National Archive. Even accounting for the very wide margin of error in the records left to us from this period, this is a good survival rate. But several key developments were beginning to impose themselves.

Foremost were the changes initiated by the 1909 Cinematograph Act: a boom in the building of purpose-built cinemas. And with the increased investment that bricks and mortar could attract, the cinema business began to evolve. Smaller companies based on individual exhibitors tended to fail and more highly capitalised companies renting films and equipment began to dominate. A regular audience meant that efficiencies could be made in the supply and marketing of films across the country, with far reaching implications for the industry.

One result of this was the tentative launch of regular newsreels from June of 1910, a phenomenon which would gather momentum in 1911 with the launch of many competing newsreel suppliers. This industry was immediately successful, and companies such as Pathé and Gaumont would continue to supply news and cinemagazines to the cinemas until television took over their function decades later. The polar fever that had been a feature of the early century continued, with the departure of the British Antarctic Expedition for the South Pole well covered by the new newsreel cameramen. These same cameramen also covered the huge demonstrations mounted by the Suffragists in their campaign for votes for women.

Other films in this selection show the development of science and nature filmmaking, with Percy Smith's classic time-lapse study The Birth of a Flower, and of the sponsored film in Day in the Life of a Coal Miner, with its surprisingly frank look at the drudgery of life in the Wigan mines and the more sedate activities of a Christmas decoration factory.

The fiction film, meanwhile, was evolving at a less frenetic pace. The comedy series, featuring regular named characters such Little Willie (The Man to Beat Jack Johnson), Three-Fingered Kate (The Exploits of Three-Fingered Kate) or the Tilly girls (Tilly, The Tomboy, Visits the Poor), made its first appearance around this time, and would rapidly become the standard model. One-reel drama was still the norm in Britain. Films like Aerial Submarine and The Heart of a Fishergirl had an appeal to audiences who had become used to them, but they would soon be outclassed by longer films from the continent. In 1910 the Danish film industry led off the race for longer films with The White Slave Trade, a multi-reel drama of sensational and salacious content leading to the development of the longer feature and the crime serial. Britain would have some catching up to do.

Bryony Dixon

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Aerial Submarine (1910)Aerial Submarine (1910)

Fantasy film about children kidnapped by a pirate submarine

Thumbnail image of Birth of a Flower, The (1910)Birth of a Flower, The (1910)

Beautiful and groundbreaking stop-motion film

Thumbnail image of Day in the Life of a Coal Miner, A (1910)Day in the Life of a Coal Miner, A (1910)

Classic early actuality that prefigures later documentary approaches

Thumbnail image of Dumfries Street Scenes (1910)Dumfries Street Scenes (1910)

Actuality footage of Dumfries streets circa 1910-20

Thumbnail image of Funeral of His Late Majesty Edward VII (1910)Funeral of His Late Majesty Edward VII (1910)

The Warwick Trading Company's coverage of the Royal funeral

Thumbnail image of Glimpses of Bird Life (1910)Glimpses of Bird Life (1910)

Beautifully-filmed footage of birds in their natural habitat

Thumbnail image of Heart of a Fishergirl, The (1910)Heart of a Fishergirl, The (1910)

Romantic drama about a fishergirl who saves her sweetheart's life

Thumbnail image of Making Christmas Crackers (1910)Making Christmas Crackers (1910)

Employees of Clark, Nickolls & Coombs make Christmas decorations

Thumbnail image of Man to Beat Jack Johnson, The (1910)Man to Beat Jack Johnson, The (1910)

Little Willy weighs up for the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship.

Thumbnail image of Pageant of New Romney, Hythe and Sandwich (1910)Pageant of New Romney, Hythe and Sandwich (1910)

Kinemacolor record of a local history pageant

Thumbnail image of Pathé's Animated Gazette: Mass Meeting of Suffragettes (1910)Pathé's Animated Gazette: Mass Meeting of Suffragettes (1910)

Trafalgar Square gathering of women's vote campaigners and supporters

Thumbnail image of Pathé's Animated Gazette: The Ship 'Terra Nova' (1910)Pathé's Animated Gazette: The Ship 'Terra Nova' (1910)

Captain Scott's expedition departs from Bute Docks for the South Pole

Thumbnail image of Picturesque North Wales (c.1910)Picturesque North Wales (c.1910)

Early travelogue of Welsh life and landscape

Thumbnail image of Tilly, The Tomboy, Visits the Poor (1910)Tilly, The Tomboy, Visits the Poor (1910)

Silent comedy in which Tilly and her sister visit the poor and cause chaos

Thumbnail image of Trip on the Metropolitan Railway, A (1910)Trip on the Metropolitan Railway, A (1910)

Enthralling journey on an Underground tube train

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