This film is held by the BFI (ID: 229513).


Government-sponsored film showing the history, buildings and industries of Malaya.

Extensive titles outline the history of the region, under Portuguese, Dutch and British rule, while an animated map shows ships converging on Malaya. Initial shots of the landscape are flanked by further lengthy titles, which explain the administrative structure of Malaya. Members of the British administration and the Sultans of the four Federated States are then introduced, walking towards the camera. The film next pans across the headquarters of the Federal Government at Kuala Lumpur, and shows further government buildings, including the Chief Secretary's residence (shot from the Public gardens), Government House in Singapore and the Colonial Secretary's 'bungalow'. Next, a 'Malay ruler's Dwelling' (the Yang Di Pertuan Besar's Palace at Sri Menanti) and the British residency at Seremban. A title states that 'the comparatively short period since Malaya came into close relations with the Empire has been a period of phenomenally rapid, though steady, progress, covering many fields of endeavour'. This is highlighted through the Supreme Court at Kuala Lumpur 'standing for British justice', the Police, and the development of villages 'into thriving cities'. The film shows Kuala Lumpur and Singapore ('a century ago a mere fishing village').

Further developments are shown, with roads ('Malaya, the greater part of which was merely as vast tract of virgin jungle no more than fifty years since is now opened up by a network of splendid roads totalling over 4000 miles') and rail. It shows bridges and 'the great irrigation works'. Next, we see the tin mines, and rubber plantations, before the film briefly considers the Malay people, as it shows the 'benefits of western education' on them. The film concludes with further footage of the affluent and ruling classes, showing a Polo match between two Malay teams and an official visit by the High Commissioner to Kota Bahru, the capital of Kelantan. The film ends abruptly.



In a letter written to Jenson Harmon, the Cine Correspondent of the Evening News on 21 July 1927, V. H. Greville wrote of a new filming expedition to Malaya that would be led by his brother, N. A. Greville. ‘I know you will be interested to know that we have secured our third government contract’, he began. ‘On this occasion we are producing films for propaganda purposes for the Federated Malay States by contract with the Crown Agents for the Colonies. The programme is a very extensive one and will include everything of importance – scenic, life, habits, customs, industries etc., winding up with a big Durbar in which some of the Maharajahs and the Governor will be present. We anticipate that we shall use about 20,000 feet of negative’ (‘Letter from the Greville Brothers’, 21 July 1927).

The Crown Agents for the Colonies had noted a couple of weeks earlier that ‘arrangements have recently been made with Messrs. Greville Bros. for the production of 10,000 feet of film of the Federated Malay States at a cost of £2,100’ (CO 323/985/23). The Greville Brothers had previously filmed for the Crown Agents in Nigeria and the Gold Coast in early 1923, with these films appearing at the Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 (Stephen, 2009, 115). Much of the footage filmed by the Greville Brothers was then re-edited by British Instructional films and released as part of The Empire Series between 1925 and 1928.

The Greville Brothers described themselves in a company catalogue as ‘pioneers in applying the camera and the moving picture to the vast resources of the Empire’. They claimed that they were ‘responsible for the unique conception of producing films of the little-known and still savage places of the world, [and] are both travellers of wide experience and profound knowledge of the dark and uncivilised regions’. The brothers offered ‘to undertake the production of travel, interest, industrial and educational pictures in any part of the world’ and aside from their productions for the Crown Agents, had also produced films entitled The White Man’s Grave, The Wealth of West Africa (a cocoa film produced for JS Fry and Sons), and Tin Mining in Northern Nigeria (produced for the Keffi Consolidated Tin Mining Company) (‘Greville Brothers Catalogue’).

In its annual report for 1927, the Federated Malay States Government explained that it had commissioned the production because ‘the time had arrived when the country should be made better known to the home public by means of the cinematograph’ (The Straits Times, 19 June 1928, 3). The local press had already emphasised the potential role of film in advertising Malaya, in particular to the British public. An article in the Malayan Saturday Post in October 1926 criticised the work of the Malay States Information Agency, complaining that ‘one finds everywhere in England such appalling ignorance of Malaya’. The writer recognised the important role of cinema here, and urged the Agency to create a film that corrected the dominant representations of the ‘East’ in feature films like The Half-Way Girl. He suggested that the Agency ‘have a film prepared at Government expense, displaying Malaya’s scenic beauties, her industries, especially of course tin and rubber, her public buildings, docks, business and residential quarters…’ and argued that ‘such a film would be very effective propaganda, appealing to an enormous audience’ and could play, with half a dozen copies, throughout the world. This was presented as part of a drive to attract ‘the best types of young men for our civil service’ by dispelling the ‘lurid illusions’ of the country and impressing ‘the truth upon anxious parents’. The writer stressed the need, in particular, for ‘creating a favourable impression of the country in the minds of mothers and fathers who believe that the finest opportunities for useful and successful careers for their sons lie in the outer marches of the Empire’ (Malayan Saturday Post, 9 October 1926, 11). There was thus an economic logic behind the film, which continued the work of existing empire settlement projects, informed for example by the Empire Settlement Act of 1922 and the work of the Empire Exhibition of 1924-1925.

While the Malayan press emphasised the need for positive representations of Malaya within the West, the British press stressed the importance of positive representations of ‘the white man’ on Malayan screens. The Times wrote that ‘It is generally felt, in the East, that a certain class of film has done more than anything else, in recent years, to diminish the prestige, which the European used to enjoy’. The writer suggested that these films were contributing to the spread of communism within the region: ‘Those films have weakened the whole platform of respect on which the ascendancy of the white man in the tropics has rested, and have prepared the minds of the people for the disintegrating influences of Communistic propaganda’ (The Times, 18 September 1926, 9). A number of questions about film censorship and the availability of British films within the Straits Settlements were also raised in the House of Commons in 1928, while anxieties about communist propaganda motivated both the work of the BBFC (which banned Battleship Potemkin in Britain in 1926) and discussions surrounding the introduction of the 1927 Quota Act. As reports increasingly emphasised the influence of film as a tool for governance, both within Malaya and in promoting Malaya overseas, the government was now expected to adopt a more interventionist approach towards film (The Straits Times, 30 August 1928, 10).

According to official reports, the expedition sailed to Penang in early July 1927 and returned to England in October. Operating ‘under the direction of Mr C.N. Maxwell’ the expedition secured 15,000 feet of film and by the middle of November, this film was shown at a lunch to mark the opening of Malaya House in London (The Straits Times, 19 June 1928, 3). In his speech at the lunch, the Acting Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr Ormsby-Gore emphasised the importance of informing the public of the ‘opportunities that were still open to men of the right type in British Malaya’, after a series of recent vacancies had been left unfilled (The Times, 19 November 1927, 9). The Straits Times suggested that ‘with Malaya properly established in the eyes of the British public both through the very clever film that demonstrates her attractions and through her handsome new headquarters, we may expect to see a remedy found for that disquieting shortage of Eastern cadets to which Mr Ormsby-Gore referred in his speech’ (The Straits Times, 19 December 1927, 8). Further reports suggested that the footage was then ‘divided into 17 sections for education and trade use’, with a section dealing with the rubber industry shown at the Imperial Institute during 1928 (The Straits Times, 19 June 1928, 3). 



With its emphasis on the ruling classes, administrative buildings and European developments within the Malay States, it is clear that this film was intended primarily to encourage British immigration to Malaya. The film focuses on the British dignitaries and government buildings and offers virtually no mention of the Malay people, aside from a brief sequence in which the locals undertake choreographed exercises (highlighting the construction of homogenised imperial citizens). Even when showing a polo match between two Malay teams, the film focuses on the experiences of the affluent and privileged, showing the ‘ladies of the court’.

The Malay government commissioned this film in order to reverse existing misconceptions of the Malay states. In some respects, the Greville Brothers may appear an unlikely choice for such a task. In advertising their work prior to the expedition, they referred to their knowledge of ‘dark and uncivilised regions’ and of filming ‘little-known and still savage places of the world’. Their productions in Africa emphasised divisions between the ‘primitive’ locals and the ‘civilised’ British viewer, yet Malaya sought to emphasise the desirability of the regions to prospective British immigrants. In doing this, it does however share much in common with the concurrent productions of The Empire Series, as it highlights the ‘phenomenally rapid, though steady, progress’ since the British arrival. The film shows villages ‘developed into thriving cities’, ‘virgin jungle’ transformed into ‘splendid roads’ and railways ‘providing swift and reliable transport’. The titles suggest that the land has been tamed – ‘the rivers have been bridged’, ‘jungles have been opened up and converted into plantations’ – and illustrates industrial developments brought about by Britain’s modern technological advances.

The opening of the film states that the sequence and titles were prepared by the Malay States Information Agency in London. On the one hand this highlights a growing recognition amongst colonial governments of film’s potential, yet it also reveals the fundamental flaw of the film. While the footage was produced by experienced filmmakers, the completed film was seemingly not. The frequent, detailed, and lengthy historical titles undermine the images. Instead of using the footage to promote Malaya, the Agency merely repackages its existing literature to a film audience. The images become secondary and incidental, as the film looks to instruct and inform, not through the images themselves, but through the written word.

Tom Rice (February 2010)


Works Cited

‘Greville Brothers Company Catalogue’, accessed at BFI Special Collections.

‘Letter from the Greville Brothers to Jansen Harmon, Cine Correspondent “Evening News”’, 21 July 1927, accessed at BFI Special Collections.

‘Letter from Crown Agents to the Under Secretary of State, Colonial Office’, dated 11 July 1927, accessed at the National Archives (CO 323/985/23).

‘Unknown Malaya’, Malayan Saturday Post, 9 October 1926, 11.

Stephen, Daniel Mark, ‘“The White Man’s Grave”: British West Africa and the British Empire Exhibition of 1924-1925’, Journal of British Studies 48 (January 2009), 102-128.

‘Malaya House’, The Straits Times, 19 December 1927, 8.

‘Malay States Agency’, The Straits Times, 19 June 1928, 3.

‘Malaya in the Commons’, The Straits Times, 30 August 1928, 10.

‘The Cinema in the East: Factor in the Spread of Communism’, The Times, 18 September 1926, 9.

‘Progress of British Malaya’, The Times, 19 November 1927, 9.




Technical Data


Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain, Malaysia
Federated Malay States Government
Production Company
Greville Brothers
Production Company
Malay States Information Agency