HOW A BRITISH BULLDOG SAVED THE UNION JACK

This film is held by the BFI (ID: 58131).

Synopsis

A fictional drama from the Zulu Wars.

A British sentry guards a British camp. A Zulu crouches on all fours and approaches the sentry, who spots him and shoots. The Zulu dramatically falls to the floor. The sentry kicks him to see if he is alive and after the Zulu speaks, the sentry walks to his tent and gets him some water. The Zulu drinks the water and immediately springs to life, shooting the sentry in the back. A group of Zulus immediately appear with their spears and take down the Union Jack. A British cavalryman, who had earlier visited the camp, reappears and after checking the sentry, rides off on his white horse.

In the next scene the Zulus run towards the camera, chased by the cavalryman. The British soldier manages to reclaim the Union Jack, but is then ambushed by the Zulus. He attempts to fight them off with a stick as his horse falls to the ground. Having bandaged his head, he then checks his horse and removes his bandage in order to tie it around his horse┬┐s leg. Two Zulus get up from the ground and hold down the cavalryman. They reclaim the Union Jack and ride off on his horse.

The next scene depicts the Zulu camp. The Chief is presented with the Union Jack and the cavalryman is tied up in front of him. The British man is whipped, and the Chief taunts him by reviling the flag. As he sets fire to it, the bulldog, briefly seen earlier at the outpost, seizes the flag and frightens the Zulus away. The soldier is then able to free himself, although he pretends to be tied up when the Zulu reappears. The British soldier kills his oppressor and picks up the flag, kisses it and waves it at the camera. The dog reappears on screen, attacking the dead Zulu. The final tableau presents the cavalryman and the white bulldog sitting alongside each other in front of the Union Jack.

 

Context

In its review of How a British Bulldog Saved the Union Jack in October 1906, The Optical Lantern and Kinematograph Journal suggested that the subject ‘is likely to go particularly well in the Colonies or in some country towns – anywhere, in fact, where what may be called the Imperial spirit is strong’. The journal further noted that ‘it has a strong vein of patriotic feeling running through it, of the sort of which audiences are particularly fond’ (The Optical Lantern and Kinematograph Journal, October 1906, 225). 

The film appeared to play throughout the Empire. For example, in December 1906, it played in New Zealand at the Theatre Royal in Taranaki, the Opera House at Waraganui and at the Town Hall in Wellington as part of a programme put on by T.J West and H. Hayward (Taranaki Herald, 4 December 1906, 7). The film also played in America, at the Dreamland Theatre in Indiana, Pennsylvania in April 1907. The local paper commented that it was ‘full of thrilling scenes and shows the British soldiers in many lively skirmishes’ (Indiana Evening Gazette, 25 April 1907, 1).

Advertisements in New Zealand described the film as a ‘most dramatic picture illustrating an incident of the late Zulu rebellion’ (Wanganui Herald, 13 December 1906, 7). During 1906, the Zulus staged an uprising against the imposition of a new poll tax in Natal. The so-called Bambatha rebellion culminated in the killing of a Zulu Chief and approximately 4000 of his followers by imperial forces. This incident was widely seen as a last act of resistance and as a final military defeat for the Zulus. Aside from the fictional recreations, there were cameramen filming events in South Africa at this time. For example, Andrew Roberts noted that in August 1906, H. D. Roberts recorded several army units that were engaged in suppressing the Zulu rebellion (Roberts, 1987, 192).

How a British Bulldog Saved the Union Jack was produced by the Walturdaw Company, which had begun trading two years earlier in 1904 as a distributor, before branching out into production in the summer of 1905. A significant presence in the British film industry for some fifteen years thereafter, its output embraced both fiction and non-fiction, foreign and domestic subjects. The company took its name from its three founders J.D. Walker, E.G. Turner, G.H. Dawson. More detailed information on the development of the company was published in a series of articles, penned by Turner, for Kinematograph Weekly during the summer of 1926. In these articles Taylor indicated that the film was, in all probability, photographed at Wembley Park by Ernest Howard, with J.B. McDowell and E. Bloomfield assisting as the cameramen during this period. Howard explained that the company ‘took a lease of Wembley Park and erected there something novel in the way of outdoor studios – a revolving platform, which allowed us to put up three sets of scenery at a time, when the wind allowed it, and each could be brought to the camera as required’ (Kinematograph Weekly, 1 July 1926, 18). 

 

Analysis

Although How a British Bulldog Saved the Union Jack may have exploited the popular hostility towards, and topical interest in, the Zulus during the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906, the film largely follows the representational structure of earlier Boer War fiction films. For example, the Zulus sneak up on the watching sentry – as the Boers do, for example, in A Sneaky Boer (1901) – while the film highlights the inherent differences between the patriotic behaviour of the British and the ‘devious and unchivalrous’ conduct of their opponents, as in from example, Shelling the Red Cross (1901) (Popple, 2002, 20). In How a British Bulldog Saved the Union Jack, the British sentry offers water to his fallen assailant, who is immediately revived and shoots the sentry. Later, the British man is ambushed while bandaging his injured horse, as the British again suffer for their code of decency. The film also places a huge emphasis on the flag as a visual, emotive signifier and uses it as a narrative device as in, for example, Hands off the Flag. Indeed, in How a British Bulldog Saved the Union Jack, the flag effectively replaces the ‘damsel-in-distress’ as the object to be rescued.

The film features ‘genuine natives’, with the Boer enemy now replaced by Zulus (The Optical Lantern and Kinematograph Journal, October 1906, 225). The similarities in the representation of the Boers and Zulus may suggest that they were largely interchangeable as enemies within the popular imagination and that there were common visual signifiers of villainy within early film.

The film does though also utilise new narrative modes to develop empathy and ideological allegiances. The characters directly address the viewer in the opening and closing shots, while the earlier example of the Zulu creeping up behind the sentry – seen by the audience but not his British victim – again encouraged the audience to respond and participate in the film. The film embraces further popular trends of narrative cinema, which had developed since those earlier films. In its narrative structure, the film begins with a close-up of a Zulu staring and jumping back at the camera – highlighting the film’s main threat – and then concludes with a tableau of the man, dog and flag – indicating the film’s moral and providing narrative closure. The introduction of a dog within the narrative also illustrates an emerging trend in cinema by 1906. Following the success of Rescued By Rover in 1905, Hepworth, with his director Lewin Fitzhamon, produced Black Beauty in 1906 and Dumb Sagacity in 1907, which teamed Black Beauty up with Rover (Sopocy, 1998, 118). In 1908, Fitzhamon made eight films that featured animals, and How a British Bulldog Saved the Union Jack indicates an early desire to exploit the popularity of these films.

Tom Rice (August 2008)

 

Works Cited

Burch, Noel, Life to those Shadows, edited and translated by Ben Brewster (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1990).

‘Thrilling Scenes Tonight’, Indiana Evening Gazette, 25 April 1907, 1.

‘Walturdaw Company’, The Optical Lantern and Kinematograph Journal, October 1906, 225-226.

Popple, Simon, ‘”But the Khaki-Covered Camera is the LatestThing”: The Boer War Cinema and Visual Culture in Britain’, Young and Innocent? The Cinema in Britain 1896-1930, edited by Andrew Higson (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2002).

Roberts, Andrew D., ‘Africa on Film to 1940’, History in Africa, Vol. 14 (1987), 189-227.

Sopocy, Martin, James Williamson: Studies and Documents of a Pioneer of the Film Narrative (Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1998).

‘West’s Pictures’, Taranaki Herald, 4 December 1906, 7.

Turner, E.G., ‘Regulations and the Exclusive’, Kinematograph Weekly, 1 July 1926, 18.

Wanganui Herald, 13 December 1906, 7.

Wellington Evening Post, 27 December 1906, 8.

 

Titles

  • HOW A BRITISH BULLDOG SAVED THE UNION JACK
 

Technical Data

Year:
1906
Running Time:
9 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
Colour:
Black/White
Sound:
Silent
Footage:
575 ft
 

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Photography
HOWARD, Ernest
Production Company
Walturdaw Company
 

Countries

 

Genres

 

Events