A cinematic look at empire

The New Statesman's media partnership with BFI Southbank for its End of Empire season.

The New Statesman is the media partner next month for the BFI Southbank's End of Empire season; a fascinating series of screenings and special events devoted to cinematic representations of the fall of the British Empire. The season emerged out of a collaboration with colonialfilm.org, a project by the BFI, UCL and Imperial War Museum to digitise the BFI's and IWM's collections of colonial film.

The films to be shown in the season range from rare masterpieces such as Windom's Way (1957) to well-loved classics like Zulu (1963.) Participating in the accompanying talks series are, on 9 November, actor Earl Cameron, who starred in Simba (1955) alongside Dirk Bogarde and Virginia McKenna, and, on 11 November, director Cyril Frankel, who will take part in a Q&Al following a screening of Man of Africa (1953)

End of Empire captures how cinematic visions of empire have evolved. During the early days of film, an imperialist agenda heavily informed the exotic and adventurous colonial scenes which fascinated British audiences. Victory in the Second World War stimulated national optimism, which led to continued affection for glamorous portraits of colonialism. However, the rise of national independence movements from the mid-1950s on helped to inculcate a more liberal perspective. For example, Dirk Borgarde was pitched into the Mau Mau emergency in Simba and John Grierson considered the crisis of resettlement in Man of Africa. Britain's dramatic imperial decline after the Suez Crisis of 1956 further affected film; the problems associated with withdrawal and a lingering sense of colonial responsibility took centre stage, at the expense of patriotic adventures.

End of Empire runs at BFT Southbank, London SE1 from 3 to 30 November. You can book tickets here.

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How did Don’t Tell the Bride lose its spark?

Falling out of the love with reality TV’s wedding planning hit.

Steph, 23, from Nottinghamshire, is standing in a drizzly field wearing a wedding dress. Her betrothed, Billy, is running around in a tweed flat cap trying to make some pigs walk in “a continuous parade”. A man from Guinness World Records is watching with a clipboard, shaking his head. Bridesmaids gaze sorrowfully into the middle distance, each in a damp pig onesie.

Thus ends the second wedding in E4’s new series of Don’t Tell the Bride – and the programme’s integrity with it.

When the classic programme, which follows grooms attempting to plan their wedding (punchline: human males doing some organising), began a decade ago on BBC Three, it had the raw spark of unpredictability. For eight years, the show did nothing fancy with the format, and stuck with pretty ordinary couples who had few eccentric aspirations for their wedding day.

This usually resulted in run-of-the-mill, mildly disappointing weddings where the worst thing that happened would be a reception at the nearest motorway pub, or an ill-fitting New Look low heel.

It sounds dull, but anyone who has religiously watched it knows that the more low-key weddings expose what is truly intriguing about this programme: the unconditional commitment – or doomed nature – of a relationship. As one of the show’s superfans told the Radio Times a couple of years ago:

“It’s perfect, and not in an ironic or post-ironic or snarky way. The format has the solemn weight of a ceremony . . . Don’t Tell the Bride is not about ruined weddings, it’s about hope. Every wedding is a demonstration of how our ambitions curve away from our abilities. It’s a show about striving to deserve love and how that’s rarely enough.”

It also meant that when there were bombshells, they were stand-out episodes. High drama like Series 4’s notorious Las Vegas wedding almost resulting in a no-show bride. Or heart-warming surprises like the geezer Luke in Series 3 playing Fifa and guzzling a tinny on his wedding morning, who incongruously pulls off a stonking wedding day (complete with special permission from the Catholic Church).

For its eight years on BBC Three, a few wildcard weddings were thrown into the mix of each series. Then the show had a brief affair with BBC One, a flirt with Sky, and is now on its tenth year, 13th series and in a brand new relationship – with the more outrageous E4.

During its journey from BBC Three, the show has been losing its way. Tedious relationship preamble has been used to beef up each episode. Some of the grooms are cruel rather than clueless, or seem more pathetic and vulnerable than naïve. And wackier weddings have become the norm.

The programme has now fully split from its understated roots. Since it kicked off at the end of July, every wedding has been a publicity stunt. The pig farm nuptials are sandwiched between a Costa del Sol-based parasail monstrosity and an Eighties Neighbours-themed ceremony, for example. All facilitated by producers clearly handing the groom and best men karaoke booth-style props (sombreros! Inflatable guitars! Wigs!) to soup up the living room planning process.

Such hamminess doesn’t give us the same fly-on-the-wall flavour of a relationship as the older episodes. But maybe this level of artifice is appropriate. As one groom revealed to enraged fans in The Sun this week, the ceremonies filmed are not actually legally binding. “It makes a bit of a mockery of the process that the bride and groom go through this huge ordeal for a ceremony which isn’t even legal,” he said. Perhaps we should’ve predicted it would all eventually end in divorce – from reality.

Don’t Tell the Bride is on E4 at 9pm

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.