British Film Institute streams trove of Victorian era silent film
Collection of 500 digitally restored films available as free archive
A scene from William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson’s 1898 film Me and My Two Friends, of which only about four seconds survive.
Silent movie fans are in for a treat with a new collection of 500 films released by the British Film Institute. Available as a free archive on its streaming service BFI Player, these clips have been digitally restored from their fragile and highly flammable nitrate originals.
Ranging from seconds to minutes in length, there is a wide variety of clips showing life in late Victorian-era Britain. You can watch The Derby of 1895, which is thought to be one of the oldest surviving British films, or have a look at the first X-ray cinematograph film ever taken: filmed by Glasgow surgeon John Macintyre, it shows the knee joint of a frog’s leg as it bends.
Of course, if you want something a little more risqué, there’s As Seen Through a Telescope, in which a Victorian gent tries out his new telescope only to catch a thrilling glimpse of a lady’s stockinged ankle resting upon a bike pedal as her shoelaces are tied. Things heat up as the unseen lacer upper touches the young lady’s ankle in the process. This is played for laughs: the voyeur thinks he has got away with it until the couple pass him and the man turns at the last minute to smack the rotter’s hat clean off his head.