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Rare Screening of Famous Somme Film at Clitheroe Castle

Battle of the somme film still
Image from The Battle of the Somme © IWM
Published Thursday, 16 June 2016

One of the most famous films ever made is to receive a rare screening at Clitheroe Castle.

The UNESCO-listed documentary, The Battle of the Somme, was filmed in the build-up to and first day of the battle, and subsequently viewed by 20million people across the UK desperate for a glimpse of their loved ones.

One hundred years later, the unique film, featuring a specially commissioned score by Laura Rossi, will be screened at the Atrium Café, Clitheroe Castle, on Thursday 30 June, in a collaboration between Ribble Valley Borough Council, Lancashire County Council and the Imperial War Museum.

The Battle of the Somme film gave an unprecedented insight into the realities of trench warfare, controversially including the depiction of dead and wounded soldiers. It includes footage of the 1st East Lancashire Regiment, 1st Lancashire Fusiliers and 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers.

It was released on 21 August, 1916, and is thought to have received its first Lancashire screening in Lancaster on 5 October.

The film’s importance was recognised in 2005 by its inscription in the UNESCO Memory of the World register, one of the few films and first British documents of any kind to be included.

Ribble Valley Mayor Joyce Holgate said: “The Battle of the Somme had a profound impact on Lancashire people and the loss of life was devastating.

“Many Lancashire people flocked to see the film hoping to catch a glimpse of their loved ones, many of who sadly did not return.

“My father fought at and survived the Somme, and his recollections of life in the trenches were graphic. The horrors he witnessed and endured were unspeakable, and he went into battle not knowing that his younger brother, Francis, had been killed at Gallipoli.

“It is no surprise that this unique film is considered one of the most important documentaries ever made and we are honoured to be showing it at Clitheroe Castle as part of our Somme centenary.”

The first day of the Somme on 1 July was the bloodiest in British military history, with 57,740 casualties – the same as the population of Ribble Valley – and 19,240 fatalities. By the end of the battle on 18 November, Britain, the Dominions, France and Germany had suffered a million casualties.

The film, shot between 25 June and 9 July by Geoffrey Malins and J. B. McDowell on hand-cranked cameras stands out for its close-up footage. Anticipating the desire of the audience to spot their loved ones, the cameramen captured as many faces as possible, often encouraging the men to turn and acknowledge the camera.

It was the first film to record war in action and images such as ‘over the top’ and the mine explosion at Beaumont Hamel have come to represent the Western Front in popular memory.

The screening is part of Ribble Valley Borough Council and Lancashire County Council’s Somme centenary commemorations that will include a day-long vigil on 1 July at Clitheroe Castle’s Unknown Soldier.

At 7.30am, a whistle will blow marking the start of the vigil, just as it did 100 years ago when solders went ‘over the top'. But instead of going into battle participants will stand on a plinth next to the Unknown Soldier for two minutes as a mark of respect.

At 7.30pm, the end of the vigil will be marked with a reading of Lancaster-born Laurence Binyon's poem 'For the Fallen' and the sounding of the Last Post by Clitheroe cornet player Alison Cowking.

The film screening is part of the Imperial War Museum’s First World War Centenary Partnership, a network of local, regional and international cultural and educational organisations hosting a programme of cultural events and activities.

It starts at 6pm and entrance is free, but booking is essential, as demand is expected to be high.

Further details and bookings for the film and/or vigil are available from the Clitheroe Castle Museum on 01200 424568.

Further details about the First World War Centenary Partnership’s Somme commemorations are available from www.1914.org.

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