The latest instalment in the BFI’s dedicated DVD series celebrating the films made by the Central Office of Information proudly looks at Britain and its people, and examines what it means to be British. The release coincides with the recent announcement that the COI will close its doors next year.
Promoting an idealised notion of Britain has often been at the forefront of COI film production. From encouraging immigration to re-defining the nation, the titles on Portrait of a People are by turns affectionate, humorous, informative and stirring. Together, they paint a fascinating and revealing portrait of the inhabitants of the country spanning nearly 25 years.
Among the highlights on this volume are: Come Saturday (1949), a lovingly shot picture of the English at play; Oxford (1958), a look at the traditions of Oxford University; Dateline Britain: Look at London (1958), in which actor and broadcaster Bernard Braden takes us on a tour of London; The Poet’s Eye (1964), how Britain and its people inspired Shakespeare; and Opus (1967), a provocative look at what’s new and shocking in contemporary British art, fashion and design from Don Levy (Herostratus). See page 2 for complete film listing.
As well as being distributed overseas, some of the films on these discs were also intended for the home audience. Circulated via the COI’s Central Film Library (CFL), they were loaned out for screenings in Britain’s village halls, at Women’s Institute meetings, at Young Farmers’ clubs, in schools and colleges, at film clubs, in the work place, in cinemas and more latterly on television. The COI also employed mobile film units (in the shape of vans) to bring its offerings to far flung places throughout the land. In this way, the image of a prosperous, creative and above all enduring nation was touted, courtesy of the COI, to its own population.
Shown By Request (1947, 18 mins); the work of the COI’s Central Film Library (CFL) is explored in this 1940s documentary
Illustrated 26-page booklet containing film notes and essays