Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
World of Plenty (1943)


Main image of World of Plenty (1943)
35mm, black and white, 42 mins
DirectorPaul Rotha
Production CompanyPaul Rotha Productions
Made forMinistries of Food and Agriculture
ScriptEric Knight
 Paul Rotha
PhotographyWolfgang Suschitzky
MusicWilliam Alwyn

Commentary: Eric Knight (Man In The Street); E.V.H. Emmett (Newsreel); Otto Neurath (Themes); Henry Hallett; Robert St. John; Cast: Marjorie Rhodes (the housewife); John Orr; Lord Horder; L.V. Easterbrook

Show full cast and credits

The problems of world food supply and distribution and how the system could be improved in the post-war era.

Show full synopsis

In many ways, World of Plenty is Paul Rotha's masterpiece. Its theme is important, it is brilliantly executed and, although its scale is significant, it does not outstay its welcome. The historical argument of the film contrasts food before and during the Second World War, and proposes that wartime planning of supplies should be extended to become the basis of postwar food distribution. It owed this structure to a cancelled film, Science and War, which Rotha had planned in the summer of 1942. Rotha's circle of friends and associates, built up in the 1930s and early years of the war, made a significant impression on the film; the science journalist Peter Ritchie Calder, the biologist Julian Huxley, the social scientist and diagram expert Otto Neurath and, above all the nutrition scientist John Orr, all made their contributions.

Here Rotha picked up the technique of multi-voice commentary, with which he had first experimented in his 1937 New Worlds for Old, and applied it on its greatest scale yet. Whereas the sceptical, questioning voices in the older film simply introduced new stretches of narrative exposition, here the cut and thrust between the protagonists acted as a dialectic in sound to which the image track is subordinate. The first main voice, 'Newsreel', spoken by Gaumont British News commentator E.V.H. Emmett, was "the voice of authority, fluent, unhesitant, but so often wrong - before, during, and after the event". The other main voice, 'Man-in-the-Street', spoken by Eric Knight, was "puzzled, critical, sceptical but eager to know about the chances of a fuller life". Knight, now best known for his children's novel Lassie Come Home, was a Yorkshireman who had emigrated to the United States. He had been in correspondence with Rotha since the early 1930s. He was also the author of the film's first draft script.

The film was a technical feat; new shooting - of experts and animated Isotype diagrams - amounts to only a third of the visual content of the film. The remainder was carefully selected from over a hundred other films, in a technique that went well beyond making a mere compilation film, matching and contrasting the cadences of the script both figuratively and metaphorically. This was to become a feature of Rotha's later significant creations, Land of Promise (1946) and The World is Rich (1947).

Tim Boon

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Food and vitamins (3:31)
2. Lend-Lease and rationing (4:32)
3. The other war (3:15)
Complete film (42:48)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Rotha, Paul (1907-1984)
Suschitzky, Wolfgang (1912-)
Science in Non-Fiction Film