This film is held by the BFI (ID: 68062).


Lime juice production. Made to mark the centenary of the sponsoring firm, L. Rose & Co. Ltd., The sponsor's estates on the island of Dominica where limes are grown and processed.



In 1966 Dominica was on the brink of major political change. The failure of the West Indies Federation in 1962 after the withdrawals of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago led to an attempt by the remaining islands to reconvene a new federal body (the so-called ‘Little Eight’). However, after four years of fruitless negotiation this project was also abandoned, and the small islands of the British Leeward and Windward groups began to move toward new arrangements with Britain independently of one another.

At the London-held Windward Islands Constitutional Conference of 1966 it was decided that Dominica, under the premiership of Edward Le Blanc of the Dominica Labour Party, would be granted ‘Associated Statehood’ status – the island would be self-governing, but would remain subordinate to Britain on matters of defence and foreign policy. Executive order would be in the hands of a Governor who would follow the instructions of the Premier and a cabinet drawn from the House of Assembly. The remaining constitutional connection to the UK could be dissolved at any time if a two-thirds majority in the House of Assembly was in favour, and a two-thirds majority in a public referendum was supportive (in the event, it was not until 1978 that the island achieved full independence). This new status was conferred on the island by the Dominica Constitution Order of March 1,1967 (Honychurch, 1995, 232-3).

Jamaica and Trinidad’s decisions to leave the Federation had stemmed in great part from concerns that the federal economic burden for the smaller, less developed islands would fall squarely on them, and given the paltry federal budget – just ‘one tenth of the revenue of either island’ (Hyam, 2006, 300) – this was not an unreasonable fear. Colonial Secretary Iain Macleod, apparently sympathetic to this reasoning, likened the small islands to ‘pensioners’ (Johnson, 1999, 620). Dominica, with its modest agricultural economy – the island has been characterised by Trouillot as ‘a marginal banana producer’ (1988, 27) – must certainly have fallen into this category.

Dominica’s agricultural history, and thus its economic history, has been one of co-existing monocultures whose fortunes have successively risen and fallen. Coffee was the first of the major cash crops, dominating production and exports from the end of the eighteenth century until it was overtaken by sugar-cane in the mid-nineteenth. Sugar was in turn supplanted by cocoa toward the close of the 1800s. Cocoa was then very quickly superseded by citrus products, specifically lime extracts, as Dominica’s main export product. By 1900 lime products accounted for over 50 per cent of total exports, rising to around 90 per cent by 1918 (Trouillot, 1988, 51-63), and only falling behind banana exports in the 1950s.

Lime cultivation had been established early in the island’s history, and from 1843 onwards at least eight separate lime products (oils, juices, concentrates, fresh fruit, etc.) were exported to various different markets. It is the island’s lime industry that forms the subject of Once Upon a SundayIsland of Dominica, a documentary feature sponsored by the British company that was then Dominica’s biggest lime producer and processor, L. Rose & Co. Ltd., a manufacturer most famous in the UK for their lime cordial. The film was produced by the prolific Gerard Holdsworth Productions, specialists in company-sponsored and government-related films; in 1966 Holdsworth’s had also produced a film for the COI/MOD advising soldiers to be checked for venereal disease (The Choice is Yours) and a picture sponsored by the Blue Funnel shipping line (The Blue Highway).

Rose’s began to market their preserved lime juice in 1867, a year that also saw the passing of the Merchant Shipping Act, a piece of legislation which made it compulsory for British ships to carry supplies of lime juice as a scurvy prophylactic (though Carpenter reports that ‘commercial lime juice in the period 1860-1920 was of very little value’ as an anti-scorbutic [Carpenter, 1986, 237]). The company bought lime estates in Dominica in 1893; it expanded into the Gold Coast in 1924, ‘under Government auspices’ (Allen 1970, 10; see also www.rosesmixers.com). Although the Dominican industry was in decline by the 1960s, it still accounted for 14 per cent of the colony’s exports, and Rose’s was still the main producer. The company operated the only concentration plant on the island, and had a total production capacity of twice their major competitor, Schillingford’s (Allen, 1970, 3). 



Once Upon a Sunday begins as an historical introduction to the lime industry in Dominica, beginning with the island’s discovery by Columbus, and moving on to describe the British development of lime rations as an antidote to scurvy. Throughout the film, there is a strong emphasis on the history of the island, but the history of slavery is omitted, and indeed the colony history is only vaguely alluded to. Europeans are largely absent (tellingly, the first sight of a European comes when the quality of a batch of limes is being checked – a ‘man from del Monte’ moment of connoisseurship, which unconsciously also signals the foreign ownership of the crop, the wealth that results from it, and indeed the island itself). In Dominica ‘it is never more than a step from the beaten track into the past’, but this past is one of swashbuckling naval adventure signified by rusting cannons and picturesque views, rather than anything else.

The overall impression established is thus quite the opposite of historical. The island seems to exist in dream-like, timeless state – the perpetual process of collecting and processing limes in a super-abundant tropical paradise (the island is said to be ‘possessed by nature’) seems to be taking place in a changeless, continual present. This sense of timelessness is amplified by a seemingly everlasting ‘harvest dance’ (in fact a Creole ‘jing ping’ dance, with typical five-piece orchestra; see Phillip, 1998, 57-64). The scenes of dancing open the main part of the film, and the same dance is returned to at the end: meanwhile, the entire process of lime processing from planting to the bottling of lime cordial at Rose’s St Albans plant has taken place.

The L. Rose & Co. Ltd. company is never identified by name, and only the bottling sequences in the factory identify them, since the distinctive bottles of Rose’s lime cordial are unmistakable. These sequences are remarkable, and the shooting and editing of the bottling process is given a dramatic visual and rhythmic beauty. The rolling and spinning of the bottles through the machinery of the plant at the film’s close is then directly linked with the movement of the Dominican dancers, as the film cuts between the quaint-looking ‘harvest dance’ on the beach and the shining speed and productive modernity of the factory. A complementary relationship between different parts of the industry is thus set up, arranged along a continuum that begins modestly with peasant production and folk dance in a timeless tropical paradise (the people are said to ‘play and work in a happy, colourful union with their surroundings’) and ends with the efficient, mechanised dance of the bottles themselves in the St Albans factory.

This kind of implicit link between modern industry on the one hand and folk arts or crafts in the colonies on the other is a common trope in films of Empire, and serves to naturalise modern colonial industry as an extension of folk practices or cottage industries. This it may well do; but, as illustrated here, a less happy and less morally ambiguous reading is also unavoidably suggested. For the visual rhyme that links the moving bodies of colonial subjects and the industrial dance of mass production cannot but recall the fact that Dominica was born as a pre-industrial agricultural economy, and as everywhere else in the Caribbean, its efficiency was dependent on the use of human beings whose bondage had reduced them to the status of a mere means of production.

Francis Gooding (January 2010)


Works Cited

Allen, J. L. Lime juice and lime oil production and markets (London: Tropical Products Institute, 1970). 

Carpenter, Kenneth J. The History of Scurvy and Vitamin C (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

Honychurch, Lennox The Dominica Story: A History of the Island (London: Macmillan, 1995). 

Hyam, Ronald Britain’s Declining Empire: The Road to Decolonisation, 1918-1968 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Phillip, Daryl The Heritage Dances of Dominica (Dominica: Division of Culture, Government of Dominica, 1998).

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph Peasants and Capital: Dominica in the World Economy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988).




Technical Data

Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
769 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
L. Rose & Co.
Production Company
Gerard Holdsworth Productions