Original Battle of the Somme motion picture embarks on centenary tour
Newly-released films nowadays generate huge interest as well as huge box-office receipts. However, can any compare to the Imperial war Museum’s 1916 film The Battle of the Somme?
In the first six weeks of its release it was watched by some 20 million, half the population of the UK, who went hoping to catch a glimpse of a love one, relative or someone they knew.
It was the first-ever feature length documentary film to show footage of war in action and broke all box office records only to be beaten by Star Wars in the 70s.
A Glimpse Of The Front Lines
On August 21, 1916, it was shown simultaneously in 34 London cinemas, followed by multiple showings across the country the following weeks.
In Brechin, the screening was organised by the Countess of Dalhousie for “the benefit of the National Young Women’s Christian Association Fund” and 1200 soldiers witnessed a special screening in Dunfermline. Such was the popularity, the manager of the La Scala cinema, Dundee, secured the film for a whole week.
The filming took place between June 25 and July 9, 1916 and was shot by just two British cameramen, Geoffrey Malins and J B McDowell.
It covers the preparations and first few days of the battle, with many distressing scenes of fighting, the dead, the wounded and communal graves.
From July this year, the centenary of the battle, the Somme100 film has been shown once more, and the organisers aim to have 100 live performances.
Laura Rossi has written the accompanying music, and youth, amateur and professional orchestras have already signed up for more than 70 performances in the UK as well as in Canada, France, Holland and Germany.
The first Scottish screening takes place on October in Falkirk Town Hall on October 7, with performances following on in Edinburgh (Nov 12), Glasgow (Nov 13) and Bellshill (Nov 17).
Somme100 Film’s educational activities involve a number of secondary schools across the UK, providing them with an integrated, flexible education project.
The music element will include a focus on 14 – 18 year-old composers creating their own music to footage from the Battle.
Some pupils’ compositions will be performed at special public screenings.
The online resources will be free for any school to download, and will include a framework, outline, lesson plans, and podcasts, highlighting cross-curricular links.
Many of the orchestras involved are also committing to additional open rehearsals targeted at school audiences.
For performance and booking information, please visit the official Somme100 film website here.
A Personal Connection
Somme100 soundtrack composer Laura Rossi has written extensively for film and television, including a number of silent films. While writing the soundtrack, Laura discovered a personal connection to the Battle of the Somme. Her great uncle, Fred Ainge from Birmingham, was a stretcher-bearer attached to the 29th Division which features in the film. Through his diaries, Laura was able to retrace his footsteps across the Somme battlefields.