Cameramen: Joseph De Frenes, Alfred Gosden, Hiram Horton, Albuin Mariner, John Mackenzie. Prod.: Charles Urban per Natural Color Kinematograph Company. DCP. D.: 5’. Col
With our King and Queen Through India was a two-and-a-half-hour film show that documented the 1911 Delhi Durbar, the elaborate ceremony held to mark the coronation of King George V as the new emperor of India. It was first shown in London on 2 February 1912 at the Scala theatre. The stage was mocked up to look like the Taj Mahal, and music was supplied by a forty-eight piece orchestra, a chorus of twenty-four, a twenty-piece fife and drum corps, and three bagpipes. The film became a worldwide sensation, attracting royalty (the British and Russian royal families saw it in London), high society, and many for whom a Kinemacolor show became a socially acceptable entrée into the world of film (among those taken to see it as children were the future filmmakers John Grierson, Paul Rotha and Ivor Montagu).
For many years, With Our King and Queen in India has been considered a lost film. The greater part of the film remains lost, but in 2000 a section turned up in the Russian State Documentary Film & Photo Archive, Krasnogorsk, Russia, showing a royal review of troops that took place after the main ceremonies. Now, thrillingly, we have more of the film to see. The Pageant Procession, which came towards the end of the show, records events from 30 December 1911, when the royal party visited Calcutta.
The parade of caparisoned elephants bearing howdahs was one of the visual spectaculars of both event and film, the ultimate Orientalist dream. The start of the film suffers from severe nitrate deterioration, but happily the greater part is free from such interference. The grand spectacle is all there, though also a curious sense of the mundane, as George’s Indian subjects dutifully parade themselves before the Kinemacolor camera. Though we still lack Kinemacolor film of the main Delhi Durbar ceremony on 12 December 1911, this precious discovery suggests more than enough of the sensory impact of colour, spectacle and imperial iconography that made the original film show so powerful.