September 2, 2002
7:56 PM   Subscribe

The British Empire in Colour -- a three-part documentary series from the producers of the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award-winning Britain at War in Colour will air this month. The series is supposed to include "a treasure-trove of early colour movies filmed before 'technicolour' transformed film making in the 1930s. Unique colour footage of the Edwardian splendour of 1906 British India, soldiers of the First World War and class divided Britain in 1926 as seen for the first time by a modern visually sophisticated audience." Apparently, it also includes Horrifying footage of last days of Raj.
posted by Bixby23 (17 comments total)
(from the second link) -- "The three-part television series, broadcast later this month, will feature unseen colour sequences from Africa, Australia, Canada and the West Indies. Yet it is frames shot at the time of the Partition of India that have stunned audiences at early screenings and already provoked argument among eminent historians.

The British, and in particular Lord Louis Mountbatten, Prince Charles's great uncle and adored mentor, come across as vainglorious interlopers who left the continent when trouble loomed. Terrible scenes, not seen before, of thousands of dispossessed refugees trailing across the newly-created border with Pakistan will make it hard to defend the memory of colonial India as a caring, orderly place, which was run in increasing collaboration with Indians."
posted by Bixby23 at 8:00 PM on September 2, 2002

Interesting link. I certainly hope this documentary makes it to the US.
posted by birdherder at 9:10 PM on September 2, 2002

I'm particularly curious about the Raj footage deemed "unfair." Certainly it sounds partial. But any footage putting the loss of one million lives into some kind of perspective is certainly welcome and, in light of recent events in Kashmir, helpful in coming to terms with a history too regularly ignored by Western eyes.
posted by ed at 12:50 AM on September 3, 2002

As a History student who's studied the British Empire quite a bit I have to say that this sounds brilliant. I hope this isn't just going to be 'The British In India in Colour' though. The British empire was absolutely massive and appreciation of it's diversity is crucial to get any sort of balanced view about it.
posted by nedrichards at 12:57 AM on September 3, 2002

Hmmm. I humbly suggest that there is nothing new here to anybody who cared to dwell into the bloody history of the partition of the Raj. This is more about public consciousness of well established historical facts than anything else. What I wonder, is whether this aspect of decolonization has been taught in school to Britons. Could any subject of Her Majesty out there to enlighten us? What did your schoolbooks tell you?
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 1:10 AM on September 3, 2002

ugly_n_sticky: absolutely nothing. I studied History to A-Level (18 years old), finishing in 1992, and in my entire schooling up until that point, whilst we covered elements of the 'British Empire', we never once covered anything to do with the partition. Although we were made to watch Ghandi once when we should have been doing Sport, as the football pitches were all frozen, which kind of counts I suppose.

I personally learnt a lot more about the situation due to the fact that a world-reknowned terrorist was a classmate and, to some extent, a friend, but thats for a different thread entirely.
posted by barnsoir at 2:04 AM on September 3, 2002

uglynsticky:Of Course not. My blinkered opinion was formed at one of 'those schools' where colonial conquests were carved into the marble on the walls. It took me years to reaslise that this world-ruling empire stuff was entirelly misplaced, and I remain, like many, an overly apologetic and hyper sensitive culturophile as a result. My transition was marked by a particular realisation, though...

We all have crosses to bear
posted by HeadSessions at 2:14 AM on September 3, 2002

I personally learnt a lot more about the situation due to the fact that a world-reknowned terrorist was a classmate and, to some extent, a friend, but thats for a different thread entirely

Well where's the thread then? you can't just leave us hanging like that.
posted by niceness at 2:35 AM on September 3, 2002

Well, if someone posted an 'I went to school with an international terrorist who kidnapped western tourists and is blamed, though not necessarily responsible for the death of an American journalist' thread, I would be happy to contribute.

The relevant point in this thread is that the conflict between him, British of Pakistani descent, and another guy in my class who was Hindu and who's family back in India wielded some degree of influence, was almost a recreation in minature of the actual situation. Though with considerably less border incursions and nuclear proliferation, obviously. From this I became far more aware of the situation than I ever would have done through the British education system.
posted by barnsoir at 2:55 AM on September 3, 2002

HeadSessions: I'm a little puzzled by your comment (and the original post too) that hints at a pivotal British responsibility in the partition drama. From what I recall, the British were not in any way encouraging it; it was rather that events were slipping off the British grip into the natives' hand (Gandhi, Nehru and especially Jinnah) faster than anybody had envisioned. To blame the British and Mountbatten first seems unfair to me. Just as in the Middle East, when independence was in sight, differing visions of the future of India clashed violently. In Palestine the British tried to broker a solution between both warring parties (Arabs and Jews) and were therefore violently opposed by both sides. After the King David hotel bombing , the British understood that their time was over and went away ASAP, leaving the natives to sort it out between themselves. A similar situation could have easily happened in India.
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 3:08 AM on September 3, 2002

I was taught about it, ugly, but only very briefly and I did go to a comprehensive with lots of lefty teachers.
posted by Summer at 3:13 AM on September 3, 2002

Here is a much better link to have an idea of what the King David hotel bombing meant to the British (the telephone warnings are not central to the narrative).
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 3:17 AM on September 3, 2002

Ugly n Sticky: to be fair, your grasp of historical knowledge far exceeds mine. Infact poor factual understanding was the bulk of your first thrust, to which I replied that we weren't taught this at school very satisfactorily, backed up by Barnsoir's comments. My links, I had hoped would indicate that there is always a seemingly blameless vacuum from the departing conqueror's POV but that in reality they are merely "leaving the natives to sort it out between themselves". A quick collapse of, or a gradual deflation of an 'Infrastructure' no matter how one-sided or wrong, is undoubtedly going to leave a hole to be filled by either pro-democratic pro-change statesmen or enterprising war mongerers who profit from the chaos.
Kabul erat demonstrandum?
posted by HeadSessions at 3:51 AM on September 3, 2002

Certainly looking forward to the series, but I'm intrigued to know how come all this new colour footage keeps turning up?

I see it's from the same team who found the WWII colour footage. Do they know something we don't?

Waiting to see their next series, "Caesars invasion of Gaul - in colour".
posted by ciderwoman at 4:06 AM on September 3, 2002

Don't know if it's from entirely the same team as I know a few people who worked on the WW2 in colour and I know they didn't work on this. I'm sure the bulk is the same though.
posted by nedrichards at 6:24 AM on September 3, 2002

It should be noted that Dawn is a Pakistani newspaper, and has played up, in this article, the suffering of Muslims in what became India. Most accounts note greater numbers of Hindus fleeing Pakistan -- in this one, 7.5M Muslims and 11M Hindus. Dawn also plays up the 'haste' of the British departure, when in fact issues of self-government had been on the table for half a century and the question of partition itself for a decade. The partition plan was offered to prevent civil war.

The footage of the refugees may well be horrifying, but being a refugee was certainly preferable to being a victim of communal violence; and it wasn't something that Europe itself didn't experience in equal numbers as a result of WWII. {self-link}

Now, we know that there were bad things that went on during the colonial era, but blaming Britain for its speed in departing is certainly a novel anti-colonialist position.
posted by dhartung at 8:33 AM on September 3, 2002

dhartung, my first thought, as always, is that is one scary self-portrait.
posted by y2karl at 10:58 AM on September 3, 2002

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