This film is held by the BFI (ID: 446019).


Coverage of the Delhi Durbar of 1902-1903.

No titles. View over heads of spectators of review of troops including Indian lancers (19). Vice-regal escort of infantry, Indian cavalry and Indian army pipe bands, with landaus conveying the Viceroy's party, including Prince Arthur of Connaught, Louisa, Duchess of Connaught, Lord Curzon, and Countess Curzon. The entourage pass along a roadway lined with British troops in what seems to be open countryside (90). Two European women mounted on caparisoned elephant; their Indian attendants sit behind them. A large group of Indians stand behind. They are joined by another elephant (101ft).Incomplete (110ft).



‘Durbar’ is a Persian term that was adopted in India to refer to a ruler’s court. It could be used to refer to a feudal state council or to a ceremonial gathering. It was this latter sense that was taken up by the British Raj when, during the ‘high noon’ of Empire, three imperial Durbars were held in Delhi, each marking royal occasions. The first, held in 1877, marked the proclamation of Queen Victoria as Queen Empress of India. The last, held in 1911, marked the coronation of King George V. This film covers the 1902-03 Durbar, which marked the coronation of King Edward VII.

The 1902-03 Durbar was monumental in scale. The events, which lasted ten days, included set–piece ceremonials, competitions in various arts, a review of over 34,000 troops, an investiture, a state ball, and a reception for the Indian princes. The Durbar entailed the construction of an amphitheatre, eleven miles of road, seven miles of railway and an electrical plant (Bottomore, 1995, 497).

Organised by Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India, the 1902-03 Durbar had specific aims. Curzon believed that ritual could lay ‘the real foundation stones of the stable fabric of Her Majesty’s Indian Empire’ (Trevithick, 1990, 567). He wished both to ‘impress the outside world with British power and influence in India’, and to show ‘Britons themselves the nature of the Empire and its responsibilities’ (Bottomore, 1995, 496). Furthermore, in providing an occasion during which the disparate peoples of India could meet one another, the event would deliver ‘incalculable advantage both to the participants and to the administration which they serve’ (The Times, 30 September 1902, 5). Curzon believed that the benefits of these aims would justify ‘an expense greatly in excess of any we are likely to incur’ (Trevithick, 1990, 567).

Central to Curzon’s plans was the presence of royalty at the Delhi Durbar. He was therefore disappointed that Edward VII did not appear in person, and that the King’s brother, the Duke of Connaught, was sent in his place. The Times, nevertheless, believed that the Duke’s attendance had the required effect. They reported that ‘the presence of the King-Emperor’s official representative invested the celebrations with an added solemnity and moral cogency they could otherwise never have possessed’ (The Times, 13 January 1903, 3). Elsewhere, the newspaper was convinced of the overall triumph of the occasion: ‘The Delhi Durbar is a splendid proof that British rule in India has not only been successful, but has become popular’ (The Times, 30 December 1902, 7). The paper believed that ‘Nothing in the whole history of our Empire in the East is likely to make as great impression on our Indian fellow-subjects than the splendid demonstration that is now in progress at Delhi’ (The Times, 30 December 1902, 7).

The Indian press was less convinced. Rather than impressing the local population, it was instead believed that the ceremonial merely reflected Curzon’s own ‘inordinate love of pomp and show’ (‘Gujarati’, quoted in Trevithick, 1990, 569). In India the Coronation Durbar was nicknamed ‘the Curzonization Durbar’ (Cory, 2002). One Bengali editorialist wrote that ‘one cannot help laughing at British notions of liberality.’ (‘Kal’, quoted in Trevithick, 1990, 569), and elsewhere the expense of the affair was decried (Trevithick, 1990, 569).

The various films that were made of the 1902-03 Durbar achieved their greatest success abroad. Stephen Bottomore has argued that ‘Though the event took place in India, most of the effort of filming it and most of the exhibition outlets and audiences interest in the films came from the West’ (Bottomore, 1995, 512).

Coronation Durbar at Delhi is one of four films made of the events made by the British company Paul’s Animatograph Works (Bottomore, 1995, 499). This company was founded in 1897 by R. W. Paul, ‘the leading pioneer of British film’ (McKernan, 2009). Although it began by making short one-off actualities, Paul’s company soon experimented with longer film forms, including the combination of actualities into specific film programmes.



Although the 1902-03 Delhi Durbar was held only seven years after the Lumière Brothers’ first film screenings it is notable that an awareness of film had already seeped into the creation and perception of such public events. On the one hand, the Durbar was filmed by ‘several companies and individuals’ (Bottomore, 1995, 512). On the other hand, the events themselves were talked of as having a filmic quality. Curzon himself described those taking part in the pageant as ‘actors’ (Bottomore, 1995, 508). Reporting on the event for the Times of India in 1903, Lovat Fraser stated:

The mind had become blurred by so many splendid spectacles unveiled in rapid succession. It was as though a cinematograph had been at work upon a novel principle, revealing not one continuous picture, but a whirling variety of scenes, wherein only the central figures remained the same. For a whole year India had been preparing for the great event. For months beforehand people talked of little else. As the appointed days grew near the tension grew to straining point. Then, suddenly, ‘Click, click, click!’ Almost before you realised it, the machine was in motion, the panorama was being unfolded before your eyes. There was one sharp, quick rush of dazzling scenes, and then it was over, leaving you breathless, astonished, exhausted (Bottomore, 1995, 511)

This awareness of the Durbar’s cinematographic qualities may be partially attributed to the nature of the event itself. Stephen Bottomore has pointed out that:

…processions were in many ways the ideal fare for the early film medium, partly because they often resulted in films with strong movement filling the frame. With limited ability to edit different shots together, such a film with a ‘lively’ or ‘animated’ appearance had a strong appeal in the early days. Also, processions, taking place along a predetermined route, were relatively easy to film (Bottomore, 1995, 507).

Bearing all of this in mind, the footage featured in Coronation Durbar at Delhi can seem somewhat disappointing. This film, which lasts under two minutes, features three scenes. In describing its contents there is not much to expand upon the entry made in Paul Catalogue of June 1903, which states ‘Shows a ground-level shot of procession, another shot of troops passing, and a very brief shot of two European ladies in a howdah’ (Bottomore, 1995, 512).

The film enables us to gain some measure of the size of the crowds, but it is not possible to gauge the reaction among the Indian onlookers (although they do run over excitedly to the royal party in the second scene, and also run alongside the carriage). Similarly, the footage features both British and Indian troops, but not in enough detail to be able to pick up their responses to the Durbar. What is most interesting here, perhaps, is that the British troops who are lining the procession are at relative ease for the passage of the Indian soldiers, but stand to attention for the arrival of the royal carriage. It should be noted, however, that the procession has gathered pace by the time the royal coach arrives.

It is also clear that the cinematic consciousness has only gone so far. These events are not staged for this camera. The cameraman does not gain particularly advantageous viewing points and the footage is also badly cropped. The opening section is not focused on any one thing in particular. We see various troops criss-crossing in front of one another, without knowing which of them we should be looking at. This is in part due to the fact that the camera cannot be panned or refocused. In the second scene – of the parade – the cameraman gains a better position; however, he does not witness the formal part of the procession, riders heading in the opposite direction block his view, and the outriders accompanying the royal party do not fit into the frame. The editing throughout is quite random, perhaps dictated by the actual footage that has been captured. The scene of the elephant is particularly unfocused. It both begins and ends suddenly. The elephant is not in the frame of the picture at the start of the segment and, as it moves on, we lose our sight of the top of the howdah.

Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that Coronation Durbar at Delhi and other films of the events were distributed widely. Moreover, R. W. Paul modestly described this actuality as being ‘the first and best film of the event’. Any discrepancies between the Durbar being described as ‘cinematic’ and the film that is on display here should not be regarded as any failing on the behalf of Paul’s Animatograph Works; instead they help us to understand how the correspondences between film and reality have altered over time.

Richard Osborne (June 2009)


Works Cited

Bottomore, Stephen, ‘“An Amazing Quarter Mile of Moving Gold, Gems and Genealogy”: Filming India’s 1902/03 Delhi Durbar’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 15/4 (October 1995), 95-515.

Cory, Charlotte, ‘The Delhi Durbar Revisited’, Sunday Times (29 December 2002) <>.

‘Delhi Coronation Durbar’, The Times (30 September 1902), 5.

‘The Delhi Durbar: Its Aspects and Significance’, The Times (13 January 1903), 3.

Luke McKernan, Luke, ‘R. W. Paul’, 2009, <>.

‘Nothing in the Whole History of Our Empire in the East’, The Times (30 December 1902), 7.

Trevithick, Alan, ‘Some Structural and Sequential Aspects of the British Imperial Assemblages at Delhi: 1877-1911’, Modern Asian Studies, 24/3 (July 1990), 561-578.




Technical Data

Running Time:
2 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
110 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain