The Battles of Coronel and Falklands Islands review: prescient naval gazing

This dramatisation of two major sea battles of the first World War uncannily prefigures the future of both cinema and conflict

Film Title: The Battles of Coronel and Falklands Islands

Director: Walter Summers

Starring: Roger Maxwell, Craighall Sherry

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 105 min

Fri, Oct 17, 2014, 00:00

   

Now, here’s a thing. This swashbuckling dramatisation of two major battles in the opening months of the first World War is a docudrama from a moment when there was no such compound adjective and no such generic distinction.

During the 1920s, frontline photographers routinely re-created scenes of note. This thrilling chronicle of the Battle of Coronel and the Battle of the Falkland Islands was similarly reconstructed some 12 years after the events depicted. How on earth does one recreate a battleship in 1926? By using actual battleships, of course.

Walter Summers’s extraordinary chronicle of the German Admiral von Spee’s first naval victory and the subsequent British response cost £18,000 to make and grossed £70,000 on its initial Armistice Day release. It was even a box-office hit in Germany and contains an early example of the Noble German in War trope.

When a celebratory German dinner party – replete with a “Gotcha” cake in the shape of a sinking British ship – proposes a toast to British damnation, von Spee declines, saying: “I raise my glass to a gallant enemy” before outlining his plans to take the Falkland Coal Depot.

Back in Blighty, meanwhile, Londoners bristle at the news of the loss: “Well Jack, what’s the Navy going to do about it then, eh?” asks a serviceman.

He need not have worried. A backroom drama, composed of elegant early grammar, sees Sir John Fisher, First Sea Lord, dispatch the battle cruisers Invincible and Inflexible. Ultimately, the film maintains that wars are won with grit and ingenuity and determination and hard graft and Sea Lords.

It’s impossible not to contemplate its pre-second World War innocence, its strange prefiguring of another Falklands conflict some seven decades on, and its unprecedented technical pizzazz and ambition.

A worthy vessel, indeed.