This book has been a long time in the making. I began thinking about a study of the British historical film in 1996 while writing my first book, The British at War, which dealt with the organisation and content of film propaganda in Britain during the Second World War. At the time the only major study of the genre was Sue Harper's magnificent Picturing the Past: The Rise and Fall of the British Costume Film, mapping both the production trends and the shifts in popular taste from 1930 to 1950. My own project was different: case studies of selected films from the 1930s to the present. As it happened, Past and Present then sat on the shelf for several years. It was twice postponed when irresistible opportunities arose to write books on the James Bond films (Licence To Thrill) and then on the British adventure series of the 1960s (Saints and Avengers). In the meantime, a number of books have added to the scholarly literature on the historical film, including Andrew Higson's English Heritage, English Cinema: Costume Drama Since 1980 and Claire Monk and Amy Sargeant's edited volume British Historical Cinema, while no less than three titles in the I.B. Tauris 'British Film Guides' series were films I had always intended to include in this study (The Private Life of Henry VIII, A Night to Remember and The Charge of the Light Brigade). Given the long gestation period of the book, I should, therefore, record my thanks in the first instance both to Professor Jeffrey Richards, general editor of the 'Cinema and Society' series, and to Philippa Brewster, my commissioning editor at I.B. Tauris, for their faith in a project that has taken the best part of a decade to come to fruition.
As with any archivally based research project, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to those unsung archivists and librarians who make the historian's job so much easier than it would be otherwise. The staff of the National Library of the British Film Institute, the British Library at St Pancras, the British Newspaper Library at Colindale and the Public Records Office (now the National Archives) at Kew have provided unstinting assistance that is entirely characteristic but rarely acknowledged. For their special help, I would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance provided by Janet Moat and Victoria Hedley of the BFI Special Collections Unit. And I am particularly indebted to Kathryn Johnson, Curator of the Modern Drama Collection at the British Library, who kindly arranged for me to consult papers from the Laurence Olivier Archive that had yet to be added to the main collection.
Numerous friends and colleagues have provided advice, assistance and comments in the preparation of this book. My thanks are due in particular to Dr Anthony Aldgate, Dr Mark Connelly, Mr Michael Coyne, Mrs Sally Dux, Dr Jo Fox, Dr Mark Glancy, Dr Sheldon Hall, Professor Sue Harper, Dr Matthew Hilton, Professor Arthur Marwick, Professor Vincent Porter, Dr Amy Sargeant, Professor Pierre Sorlin, Dr Andrew Spicer and Mr Philip Timothy. In the course of my research, furthermore, I have benefited enormously from the opportunity of presenting research papers at the University of East Anglia ('Cinema, History, Identity: An International Conference on British Cinema', July 1998), the Jagiellonian University, Krakow ('British Cinema Pasts', April 2001) and the Institute of Historical Research ('Issues in Film History' seminar group, February 2004). I would like to extend my thanks to the participants in those conferences and seminars who have commented helpfully on my work in progress.
Most of this book was written during a year's study leave from The Open University, and I would be remiss indeed if I did not acknowledge the generosity of my colleagues in the History Department who covered my usual teaching and administrative duties. I should like to record especially my gratitude to Dr Annika Mombauer, who kindly deputised for me on the Taught MA in History while I put my feet up to watch films! The costs of travel and archive work were partially offset by the Arts Faculty Research Committee, which provided additional funding to enable me to complete the book.
The illustrations in this book were provided by BFI Stills, Posters and Designs. They appear by courtesy of Carlton International Media
Ltd, Paramount Home Entertainment (UK) Ltd, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment and Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation. They are reproduced here for the purpose of critical analysis.
As ever, I would like to record my thanks to my parents, Colin and Anne Chapman, whose encouragement and support remain invaluable.
This book is dedicated to my late school history master, Einor Day, an inspiring teacher and a true gentleman.
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