"The Price of Empire" : Portrayals of Nineteenth Century Imperialism on Film
Beattie, Robert Ross, IV
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It seems as though "no historical films seem as dated as those about the British Empire." This is true, but only because the system of values of society has change significantly since the beginning of the genre of Empire films. The romantic tenets of the actual era were dramatically brought to life in the Thirties and Fifties. The Empire was infallible, just as it was to the common man in 1890. The Empire flourished in the beginning of this cycle, and was gone by its close. An Empire which began for many different reasons: security, economics and rivalry being the most popular, finally came to a close. The Sixties marked this turn, as the question of 'why' was brought to the genre. No longer was the Empire infallible, it still had its heroes like Gordon and Chard, but its unquestioned greatness was gone. The final cycles, affected greatly by their socities, held the Empire as something bad. The people who were exploited by it were now the heroes, though only the politicians were the real villains. Gone were the old themes of paternalism and self-sacrifice for the Empire. The only true value was now the resistance to the Kipling ideal and the subjugation of peoples. The Empire's eternal heroes remain, though the heroic ideals for which they fought have been re-examined. No more will one find Cutter leaving riches to do his duty, instead you will find Peachy and Dravot looting the country four ways from Sunday. Gone are the 'goofy' natives of Gunga Din and Flame Over India, now the natives are great men like Gandhi and Omar Mukhtar. The cycle has come full circle. Through movies the romantic themes of Empire have changed. Individuals still hold the virtues of Empire on both sides, but the Empire itself has lost all of its innocence. As an introduction to the study of the New Imperialism, Empire films have great value. As accurate portrayls of a period's events, they have little. Since Lives Of A Bengal Lancer was released, there has been a fifty year affair of Hollywood and Empire, and as long as films are made it will continue. As long as the argument continues, heroes and villians, of both sides will continue to fight for their side. Self-sacrificing, answering the call to duty in all corners of the globe, from India and the Northwest Frontier, to Nicaragua, and to South Africa men and women will continue to pay the on-screen "price of Empire.