This film is held by the BFI (ID: 291096).


A young African girl is crowned the May Queen in the village of Stanion, Northamptonshire.

The film opens with shots of traditional rural life - the landscape, cows, horses ploughing the fields, blossoming trees, sheep and finally ducks running towards the pond - before showing children skipping and running to the village school. Here the children play in the playground and then line up before the schoolmistress. Each child approaches the schoolmistress, whispers in her ear before she notes a name on her pad of paper. She summons an African girl who curtsies as her fellow school children applaud. They then all march into school. The film cuts to the outside of a church. A boy and girl lead out the African girl, while two English girls carry the train of her dress. The group walks to the church grounds where they are applauded by a collection of exclusively white adults and children - including the vicar. A woman presents the African girl with a wreath and kisses her. The girl curtsies as the gathering applauds. She sits on her throne, flanked by the other children. The group faces the camera as they sing together.



An article, entitled ‘African Girl as May Queen’, published within Colonial Cinema in July 1944, explained the presence of the two African girls within Springtime in an English Village. ‘Among the children sent to Stanion, a small village in Northamptonshire’, the article stated, ‘were the two daughters of an African seaman in the Merchant Navy. The foster parents of these two children sent them to attend the village school’ (Colonial Cinema, July 1944, 27). The twin girls, Stephanie and Connie Antia had been evacuated from London at the age of four, and Stephanie was the African girl selected by her classmates within the film as the May Queen for May Day 1944. The sisters stayed in the village until their teens, before moving away with their father (Stephanie now lives in Maryland). Stephanie’s great childhood friend, Joy Smith (née Baker), recently recalled the arrival of the Colonial Film Unit within the village. ‘We didn’t know what propaganda was’, she explained, ‘but they told us the film was made to be shown in African countries to show that we British were not a dreadful race of people’ (The Observer, 21 June 2009).

A report in Colonial Cinema suggested that ‘a story like this was too good for the unit to miss’. ‘The result’, the article concluded, ‘is an extremely pretty little film which we think will have an appeal, not only in Africa, but also in the whole Colonial Empire’ (Colonial Cinema, July 1944, 27). In a subsequent brief description of Springtime in an English Village, Colonial Cinema suggested that the film ‘has special appeal for Africans because the May Queen herself is an African child’ (Colonial Cinema, September 1945, 89).

Colonial Cinema noted in June 1945 that the film had already been screened as part of a programme of Colonial Film Unit pictures to teachers in the Gold Coast. The report claimed that ‘this picture was much appreciated’, noting that ‘the choice of an African girl as May Queen made a deep impression’. The film ‘delighted’ the six-year-old daughter of one of the teachers – implying a process of identification between the African girl on screen and the audience members – but the report also presented the film as an indication of racial tolerance and integration within Britain. The report claimed that ‘the comment was heard that Aggrey’s motto (black and white keys of the piano) was being put into practice in Britain’, suggesting that the African audiences were embracing the film’s intended message (Colonial Cinema, June 1945, 40). 

A number of Colonial Film Unit titles during the War represented African personnel within Britain, as the Unit was unable to send a film crew out to Africa and thus often struggled for African footage. In some cases – for example Machi Gabi (1943) – the Unit re-edited films that were made in Africa before the War, but often the CFU either presented films that highlighted British life, such as Education in England (1943), or presented Africans within Britain. Further examples of this include An African in London (1941), in which a West African is shown around London, Private Officer Peter Thomas, R.A.F (1943), which showed the first African to qualify for a commission in the RAF, and Nurse Ademola (1943), depicting the training of a Nigerian nurse at Guy’s Hospital (Smyth, 1988, 291).

The Merchant Navy was comprised of almost 200,000 men by 1938, of whom over 50,000 were ‘Lascars’, mainly from India and Africa (Jackson, 2006, 29). While British ports, such as Liverpool and Cardiff, had established black communities, the black presence within Britain increased during the War. From 1941, the British government began to recruit service personnel – over 12,000 saw active service in the RAF – and skilled workers from the West Indies. Richard Smith notes that 2,500 were employed in factories in the North West or as foresters in Scotland, while approximately 600 West Indian women arrived in the autumn of 1943 for work in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. In addition, African-American troops arrived in Britain from 1942 (Smith, 2007, 436).



The ceremonial conclusion of Springtime in an English Village seeks to represent not only the crowning of an African girl as May Queen, but more broadly the integration of Africans within the British Empire. The film initially depicts a quintessentially English landscape, apparently unaffected by war – fields, animals, the village school – and then very publicly assimilates an African girl into this image of England, through another staple of traditional rural England; the May Queen ceremony. The staged performance of the ceremony – leaving the church, receiving the applause of the white establishment and then receiving a kiss from a young British woman – illustrates the social acceptance of the African girl, while the final shot of a staged tableau of the crowned girl surrounded by English children positions the African girl at the heart of this image of England. This final shot is maintained for a few seconds, explicitly ensuring that the African audiences depart with this image of African integration.

Colonial Cinema began its account of Springtime in an English Village by stating that ‘the war has not been allowed to interfere with many of the old English customs, particularly those which affect the happiness of the children’ (Colonial Cinema, July 1944, 27). Although the film makes no direct reference to war, its messages of continuation and defiance, of racial co-operation and imperial solidarity are motivated entirely by the demands of war. This promotion of a racially tolerant Britain is essential as the government called for black men and women to come over to help with the war effort. Furthermore, in positioning Africans within this English identity, the film serves to mobilise the African audiences in their defence of the British Empire.

Tom Rice (August 2008)


Works Cited

‘African Girl as May Queen’, Colonial Cinema, July 1944, 27.

Colonial Cinema, June 1945.

Colonial Cinema, September 1945.

Jackson, Ashley, The British Empire and the Second World War (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2006).

‘Propaganda Coup of England’s First Black May Queen’, The Observer, 21 June 2009.

Smith, Richard, ‘Second World War’ from The Oxford Companion to Black British History, edited by David Dabydeen, John Gilmore and Cecily Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Smyth, Rosaleen, ‘The British Colonial Film Unit and sub-Saharan Africa, 1939-1945’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 8, 1988, 285-298.




Technical Data

Running Time:
7 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
260 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Ministry of Information
Production Company
Colonial Film Unit





Production Organisations