Somme film to be given rare Edinburgh screening

Battle of the Somme Film comes to Edinburgh on 12 November.First shown in Edinburgh in 1916, in the Edinburgh Picture House. Picture; contributed
Battle of the Somme Film comes to Edinburgh on 12 November.First shown in Edinburgh in 1916, in the Edinburgh Picture House. Picture; contributed
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It was the first-ever documentary to lay bare the true horror of war – and was seen by 20 million people in the first few weeks of its release.

Now movie fans from across Edinburgh will be able to see the 1916 classic The Battle of the Somme in the way it was intended once again – accompanied by a full orchestra.

The propaganda film, which first went on general release across the UK in August 1916, broke all box office records at the time, an achievement it held until Star Wars in 1977.

It was watched by more than half the UK population, many of them hoping to catch a glimpse of a loved one. The Royal Family even had their own screening at Windsor Castle.

The Battle of The Somme went on to be shown in more than 18 countries worldwide.

To mark the documentary’s centenary, Somme100 FILM is co-ordinating 100 live orchestral performances of the soundtrack alongside the film throughout the UK and internationally.

It will be shown at Edinburgh University’s Reid Concert Hall on November 12.

Composer Laura Rossi, who created a new soundtrack for the black-and-white production in 2006, said: “There were over 419,000 [British] casualties, which means there are still many thousands of people across the UK who still have connections with the Battle of the Somme, not least the descendants of the casualties and those who lost their lives.

“We want to reach and inspire audiences on a national scale, the way the film did a hundred years ago, to commemorate those who lived, fought and died throughout the battle.”

The film was originally shown across Scotland from September 1916 onward, playing at La Scala and Victoria Palace in Dundee, King’s Cinema in Perth, Falkirk Pavilion Picture House and Electric Theatre, Bellshill Theatre, Aberdeen Picture House and Edinburgh Picture House among others.

It met with an enthusiastic reception, with many hailing its refusal to shy away from the reality of war – though its depiction of real-life violence also shocked many viewers.

David Lloyd George, prime minister from the end of 1916, is alleged to have said: “If the exhibition of this picture all over the world does not end war, God help civilisation.”

More than a million men were wounded or killed during the Battle of the Somme, making it one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history.

On the first day of the offensive alone – July 1, 1916 – the British suffered more than 57,000 casualties. It was an unprecedented loss of life.

The Somme was the largest of the First World War battles on the Western Front, and would later become forever associated with the horror and futility of trench warfare. Shot by just two British cameramen, Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell, the documentary covered the preparations and first few days of the battle.

For the first time in history it gave those back home an uncompromising glimpse of the fighting, the dead and the wounded.

alistair.grant@jpress.co.uk