Evaluating the importance of the Crown Film Unit, 1940 - 1952

  • Alan James Harding

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

The Crown Film Unit (CFU) was the British Government's principal in-house film production facility during the years 1940 to 1952. Over this period it produced around 225 films of different types and lengths ranging from short five minute Public Information Films to feature length cinema exhibited pictures. A very few of the latter, such as Target for Tonight (1941) or Fires Were Started (1943) have become iconic representations of both the bomber offensive and the Blitz during the Second World War. Although these films only represented a very small percentage of the CFU?s entire catalogue they have, in the main, dominated academic discourse about the Unit. This research has sought to explore the full production canon of the CFU and, in particular, to examine its importance and legacy. In doing so it has also engaged with the debates about the role of film propaganda especially as it impacted upon the self-image and morale of the British people during and after the War. It also examines the role and position of the Unit in the development and history of the Documentary Movement. To achieve these research aims the Crown Film Unit is first situated in its historical context and the influences of its predecessors over the previous forty or so years are examined. Subsequently a new classification paradigm is developed which allows the films themselves to be reviewed according to theme. Locating each of the films in a particular dynamic framework enables them to be evaluated from the appropriate social, economic, political or military perspectives. The films are also considered in the context of their reception which, in the case of the CFU was not just cinematic exhibition but also a substantial non-theatrical audience watching, not only in the UK, but across the world. The penultimate chapter examines the legacy of the CFU demonstrating that it had an important impact upon British and overseas feature film making in the 1950s, but it also made a currently undervalued contribution to the subsequent development of both Public Information, training, advertising and instructional films. The research concludes that although perhaps still best described as a Documentary Film Unit the role of the CFU was far more nuanced.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Nottingham Trent University

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