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Sea Fort (1940)


Main image of Sea Fort (1940)
35mm, 7 min, black & white
DirectorIan Dalrymple
Production CompanyEaling Studios
ProducerAlberto Cavalcanti
ScreenplayIan Dalrymple
PhotographyErnest Palmer

Commentator: Patrick Curwen

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The operation of a floating sea fort during WWII, and the lives of those who work on board.

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Released in July 1940 as part of the Ministry of Information's 'Five Minute Films' programme of short propaganda messages, Sea Fort was the closest to a 'pure' documentary yet released by Michael Balcon's Ealing Studios, and signalled a new phase in Ealing's shorts production.

During the Second World War sea forts were set up off the coast of Britain and in the Thames estuary as platforms for anti-aircraft guns. They were constructed from reinforced concrete and protruded about 20ft above the high-tide mark. This insightful film offers a rare glimpse of life aboard one such installation, and shows Britain as well-prepared and equipped to defend itself against Hitler's mighty Luftwaffe. The garrison's crew - men from the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and the Royal Navy - are shown working intense eight-hour shifts manning the huge searchlights and anti-aircraft guns. Their well-earned 'watch-off' time is typically spent sleeping, reading, playing table tennis or eagerly anticipating the next rations delivery.

Narrator Patric Curwen keeps the tone afloat with some buoyant commentary, though this was too upbeat for one contemporary Times reviewer, who complained, "unfortunately the commentary is not worthy of the photography; it reverts to the old convention of persistent facetiousness, which one had hoped had now been abandoned in documentary".

Director Ian Dalrymple was just passing through Ealing, and would shortly head up the Ministry of Information's newly established Crown Film Unit. More significant is the first credited role for a new recruit at Ealing, the Brazilian-born Alberto Cavalcanti, who would soon be appointed by Balcon to lead Ealing's new 'shorts unit'.

Katy McGahan

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Video Clips
Complete film (6:34)
Cavalcanti, Alberto (1897-1982)
Dalrymple, Ian (1903-1989)
Ealing Studios (1938-59)
Ealing Propaganda Shorts