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Coventry Cathedral (1958)


Main image of Coventry Cathedral (1958)
16mm, colour, 23 mins
DirectorDudley Shaw Ashton
Production CompanyBFI Experimental Film Fund, British Council
ProducerDudley Shaw Ashton
PhotographyDudley Shaw Ashton
MusicMichael Tippett

A documentary about the reconstruction of Coventry Cathedral through the eyes of architect Basil Spence, who explains his concept of blending ancient and modern by comparing his sketches and models with various existing cathedrals in England and Italy.

Show full synopsis

Coventry Cathedral was probably the first film to show in detail how a building, not then in existence, would appear when completed. It was a measure of the film's success that architect Basil Spence made substantial modifications to the design after he had seen the first rough cut.

The film traces the development of the plan of the new cathedral, started in March 1956 to replace the mediaeval building destroyed in an air raid on 14 November 1940. A competition amongst British architects for the design of the new cathedral was won by Spence, who introduces the film and provides the commentary.

The development of the plan for the new building is traced out showing the various influences that have affected the design, particularly the desire to incorporate the ruins of the old cathedral with the new. Spence explains that he has been uncompromising in his use of modern materials, yet has consciously striven to continue the traditions of the great cathedrals of the past. The opening of the film demonstrates this continuity of feeling and architectural approach by comparison between the cathedrals of Gloucester and Durham in Britain and Albi, Pisa and Ravenna with the models of the planned Coventry building.

A sequence towards the end of the film shows Graham Sutherland with his preliminary designs for the great tapestry which hangs behind the altar. Another sequence deals with the striking modern stained glass made for the five great pairs of windows of the cathedral.

BFI Productions Catalogue 1951-76

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Video Clips
Complete film (20:43)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review