Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
A Year in Film: 1911

The Sidney Street Siege ushers in another eventful year for British film

Main image of A Year in Film: 1911

On the surface, 1911 looks like a year of business as usual for the British monarchy and the stability of the Empire. George V, who succeeded his father Edward VII in June 1910, was crowned in the traditional Coronation ceremony on the 22nd June, and he and his queen travelled to India later in the year for the awesomely lavish Imperial coronation - the Delhi Durbar - in December. But below the surface things were less stable than they appeared.

The first full year of George V's reign opened with a pitched battle of anarchists against the police on the 3rd January, later known as the Sidney Street Siege - and still one of the most spectacular events ever captured on film - and throughout the year there was continuing Suffragette protest and widespread industrial unrest. August was particularly bad, with a long-running transport strike culminating in violence in the middle of an unprecedented heat-wave.

All of these events were captured by the newsreels, now a fixture in Britain's cinemas. Local events such as the terrible music hall fire in Edinburgh and a freak cyclone which laid waste to a town in Wales were embraced by the newsreels, whose numbers were augmented this year with the arrival of a new major player: Topical Budget, which would be a fixture on the circuit for two decades.

At the international level, poor relations between Germany and Britain continued to escalate as the Kaiser tested his naval capacity with a gunboat raid on Agadir, which had the unforeseen and counterproductive consequence of strengthening the entente cordiale between Britain and France - ties that would ultimately work against the Germans. Of course none of this tension showed in the film record, with the exception of the continuing high profile given to ships launches. Among these new arrivals was the light cruiser HMS Chatham, launched in November 1911 and destined for the Mediterranean fleet and action against German cruisers in the opening days of the Great War.

The film business underwent a radical change. The industry was no longer a playground for amateurs, and had been developing over several years, but 1911 saw long-term structural changes coming to a head and new business models solidify. Renting rather than outright sale of prints from the producer to exhibitor was now established as normal practice, while film companies became more highly capitalised and 'vertically-integrated', drawing production, distribution and exhibition of films together within a single company. Indeed, many have called 1911 'the second birth of cinema': the year that cinema cut its ties to other media businesses, such as the fairground circuits and the music halls, and came into its own not just as a technology but as a standalone media industry in its own right. Cinema circuits began to form, and 1911 was notable for the establishment of the characterful Electric Cinemas, many of which survive to this day.

The new business model was founded on two additions to the mixed cinema programme - the regular newsreels, which gave solid social purpose to cinemagoing, and the regular adventure series and serials which now became a regular fixture on British screens. Lieutenant Rose was one doughty British hero, fighting foreign anarchists for the security of King and Empire in several episodes released in this year. He would be followed by many similarly intrepid adventurers in subsequent years, and even if he and his followers lacked the sophistication and lasting appeal of the French Fantômas or Zigomar serials they were certainly popular in British cinemas in their day, and their exploits would soon be serving up ripe material for Britain's emerging film comedians.

Bryony Dixon

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Burglar for One Night, A (1911)Burglar for One Night, A (1911)

Poignant film highlighting the link between poverty and crime

Thumbnail image of Coronation of their Most Gracious Majesties, The (1911)Coronation of their Most Gracious Majesties, The (1911)

The lavish coronation procession for King George V

Thumbnail image of Cup Final 1911 Newcastle United v Bradford City (1911)Cup Final 1911 Newcastle United v Bradford City (1911)

Newsreel capturing the replayed FA cup final at Manchester's Old Trafford

Thumbnail image of Funeral of the Great Lafayette at Edinburgh (1911)Funeral of the Great Lafayette at Edinburgh (1911)

Crowds mourn the tragic death of a celebrated stage illusionist

Thumbnail image of Great East End Anarchist Battle, The (1911)Great East End Anarchist Battle, The (1911)

Gaumont newsreel footage of the notorious 'Sidney Street Siege'

Thumbnail image of Houndsditch Murderers (1911)Houndsditch Murderers (1911)

The Sidney Street Siege

Thumbnail image of Lieutenant Rose and the Stolen Code (1911)Lieutenant Rose and the Stolen Code (1911)

A signal book falls into enemy hands

Thumbnail image of Life of the Honey Bee, The (1911)Life of the Honey Bee, The (1911)

Revealing insight into the life of a working beehive

Thumbnail image of London: Suffragette Pageant (1911)London: Suffragette Pageant (1911)

Suffragettes march in London, some in costume as famous women in history

Thumbnail image of Our King Emperor (1911)Our King Emperor (1911)

King George V and Queen Mary are honoured at the Durbar in Delhi

Thumbnail image of Richard III (1911)Richard III (1911)

Truncated silent version of Shakespeare's play

Thumbnail image of Strength and Agility of Insects, The (1911)Strength and Agility of Insects, The (1911)

Bizarre and fascinating film featuring assorted performing insects

Thumbnail image of Topical Budget 11-2: H.M.S. 'Chatham' Launched (1911)Topical Budget 11-2: H.M.S. 'Chatham' Launched (1911)

Chatham Dockyard sees the launch of its namesake

Thumbnail image of Touch of Nature, A (1911)Touch of Nature, A (1911)

A desperate unemployed man is driven to robbery to feed his wife and child

Thumbnail image of Welsh Cyclone (1911)Welsh Cyclone (1911)

The aftermath of a freak storm in South Wales

Related Collections

Thumbnail image of A Year in Film: 1906A Year in Film: 1906

An overview of a turbulent year for the British film industry

Thumbnail image of A Year in Film: 1907A Year in Film: 1907

A quiet year for world events, but not for the film industry

Thumbnail image of A Year in Film: 1908A Year in Film: 1908

Another year in the life of the swelling British film industry

Thumbnail image of A Year in Film: 1909A Year in Film: 1909

Another eventful year for British film

Thumbnail image of A Year in Film: 1910A Year in Film: 1910

The continuing evolution of British film

Related People and Organisations