Our friendly and excellent guides are available as Step On Guides for any visiting tour or coach operators who may like a unique, entertaining and educational tour of Irish History and the events of Easter Week 1916.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

1917 The Banned Movie

British sensitivities were still on heightened alert as 1917 began. In January 1917 a film opened to packed houses in the Rotunda Picture House. ‘Ireland A Nation’ had been shown to and passed in December 1916 by the censor

The film itself had actually first been shown in 1914 and was made by the Gaelic Film Company. A silent movie it told the story of Ireland from the time of the 1798 rebellion, Robert Emmet in 1803 and up to the planned arrival of Home Rule, itself having been put on the back burner in 1914. It used dramatic scenes and screen titles to tell its story.  The film website IMDB described the film as,
‘The story of Ireland and her fight for Home Rule, as seen through the experiences of Father Tom Murphy, a patriot with a price on his head, and the famous Irish leader Robert Emmet.’

The film was produced by Lismore, Co Waterford born Walter McNamara. McNamara who according to the magazine ‘Moving Picture World’ was a vice president of the Gaelic League and one of the founders of the Irish Club in London. He had been educated in Wales before heading to the United States and became involved in the silent movie business.

The movie had its exterior shots filmed on location in Ireland including at Glendalough and the Vale of Avoca in Wicklow. The interior shots were filmed at  Ec-Ko Studios at Kewbridge in England which led to many continuity errors which was perhaps the least of its problems as it was often factually inaccurate as well. It starred Barry O’Brien as Emmet. O’Brien was an actor born in London in 1893, passing away in 1961.  Dominick O’Reilly played the role of Napoleon Bonaparte with supporting cast including Patrick Ennis and Barry Magee. Interviewed by George Blaisdell, McNamara spoke about his time in Ireland making the movie.
“Did I have any difficulties finding locations? Yes in one instance when I tried to find a mud hut and failed. Parnell wiped those out. I did though get some wonderful backgrounds.  We had a fort built by Oliver Cromwell and to this day no real son of the old sod passes it without spitting, that’s the only way they can adequately express his feelings for the builder. Were obstacles placed in my path in the making of Ireland a Nation? Yes indeed by the soldiers. Sometimes we would start a scene with not a soul in sight. It seemed sometimes that in two minutes soldiers would come from everywhere and demand to see a permit. The military tried in every way to handicap us. That’s why we were five months over there. The Nationalist Party gave us unofficial sanction.”

When he arrived in Ireland he was arrested by the British on suspicion of importing arms illegally but these weapons were discovered to be props for his film. McNamara was released but his props were not returned to him.

Even though the censor passed the film, he did so with some cuts to the original. Scenes including the interruption by British soldiers of a hillside Mass being celebrated by a Priest and the execution of Robert Emmet plus some of the intertitles were cut including one that told viewers that ‘a price of £100 dead or alive on the hed of every priest’.

On Wednesday September 23rd 1914 it had its premiere at the 44th Street Theatre in New York and played to big audiences in New York and Chicago despite being panned by most critics.
The tag line for the movie on its release was
‘Made in Ireland by Irish Actors, 116 years of Irish History in 5000ft of film’
Shown twice a day, tickets cost the movie goer either 25c or 50c.

A copy was being sent to Ireland for showing in May 1915 but it was on board the Lusitania when it was sunk by a German submarine. The intervention of the Easter Rising prevented another copy arriving and so it was January 8th 1917 before the Irish public got to see the film although with cuts to the original implemented by the censor. Newspaper advertisements called the film "The Greatest Patriotic Picture Ever Screened".  The Rotunda’s 1500 seats were sold out for two consecutive nights but when reports after the first couple of nights that audiences were cheering the death of British forces in the film’s depiction of the 1798 rebellion and roaring ‘up the Republic’ during some scenes, the military authorities banned the film.

The film would not be seen again in Irish cinemas until 1922 when extra scenes of the aftermath of the Rising, the War of Independence and DeValera’s visit to the United States were included.


 ‘A Special Relationship, Britain Comes to Hollywood’ by Anthony Slide
Trinity College Archives
New York Tribune

No comments:

Post a Comment