The BFI National Archive has announced that the world premiere of a new restoration of a major British silent film, The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927) will be unveiled at a BFI London Film Festival Archive gala screening on 16 October 2014, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall followed by a nationwide release in cinemas, with a simultaneous release on BFI Player and later issued on BFI DVD.

This virtually unknown film offers a stunning recreation of two key battles faced by the Royal Navy in the early days of World War One, almost exactly a century ago. The battle of Coronel took place on 1 November 1914 and the battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December 1914.

The first major engagement between German and British ships at Coronel was a terrible defeat for Britain with the loss of two warships achieved by Admiral Graf von Spee. Later the British responded in a desperate bid to save the morale of a nation at war.

A "hugely ambitious" undertaking

Bryony Dixon, curator, Silent Film, BFI National Archive said: "The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands Islands is a thrillingly accurate recreation of the events 100 years ago of the first major battle at sea of the First World War between Germany and Britain. This new restoration by the BFI National Archive will showcase the hugely ambitious filmmaking task set by [director] Walter Summers, a much underrated director, who called on the full resources of the British Admiralty to film using actual battleships. The film was hugely successful in its day and is a fitting memorial to the thousands of sailors who died on both sides."

Photo caption: Sailors greet a sister ship on the high seas: The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927)


In August 1914 British and German ships all over the world receive the signal that they are now at war. The German East Asia Squadron under Admiral Maximilian von Spee, cut loose from his base at Tsingtao begins to prey on British and allied shipping with great success. HMS Good Hope, HMS Glasgow and HMS Monmouth under the command of Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock have orders to seek and engage the enemy. HMS Canopus, a warship with superior firepower and 12-inch guns, is delayed with engine trouble 300 miles away.

On 1 November 1914 in a dramatic engagement near Coronel off the coast of Chile, von Spee's superior force encounters the British squadron. The engagement reveals the German gunners outclassing their British counterparts and HMS Good Hope is sunk with the loss of Craddock and all men on board. HMS Monmouth awaits her fate and eventually is sunk too by the weight of German weaponry with the loss of her entire crew. HMS Glasgow, unaware of the fate of her companion, manages to escape.

Back in London the nation reels from the shock of their first defeat at sea for 100 years. Admiral Jackie Fisher is determined to launch a counter-­‐attack and the speedy re-­‐fit of HMS Inflexible and HMS Invincible at Devonport is immediately underway with orders to sail by 6pm on 11 November - "whether ready or not!" The great battleships leave for the South Atlantic base at the Falkland Islands under the command of Vice Admiral Sturdee, determined to restore British pride and supremacy.

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