This film is held by the BFI (ID: 11608).


The development of the Falkland Islands dependencies under British administration; the lives of the men stationed there.



Although British claims to parts of the Antarctic can arguably be traced as far back as Anthony de la Roché’s 1675 discovery of South Georgia, the first formal claim to the area was a Letters Patent issued in 1908. The sector (between 20˚W and 80˚W) covered by the claim was thenceforward known as the Falkland Islands Dependencies (FID), and was to be administered from Port Stanley. No other nation had made a claim at this point, and no objection was raised internationally. A lonely post office was opened at Grytviken, South Georgia, helping substantiate the legal manoeuvre (Beck, 1986, 28; Hunter Christie, 1949, 239-244)

The fragility of the assertion was demonstrated in 1925 when Argentina began to advance similar claims for the same area, basing them on a dubious interpretation of a treaty dating to 1494; by 1937, she had announced sovereignty over the entirety of the Dependencies. Chile too put forward a similar claim for almost the same area in 1940, on the grounds – ‘somewhat specious,’ writes Fuchs, with understatement – that Antarctica is geographically contiguous with the Andes, ‘and thus a concrete part of the motherland’ (Fuchs, 1982, 20-1).

An escalation of Argentine interest during the war resulted in some tit-for-tat flag-hoisting at various uninhabited locales, and for the British this raised the spectre of losing control of the south side of Drake Passage. This was a worrying strategic prospect, and a secret naval operation, codenamed ‘Tabarin’, was mounted in 1943 to assert British control over the area.

In legitimising a claim to sovereignty over unoccupied territory, ‘much depends on the creation of facts’ (Auburn, 1982, 5), and Tabarin’s task was to create such a context. The first mission established several manned bases, and the long-term aim was to initiate a near continuous occupation of the area in order to make British claims concrete. At the end of the war Operation Tabarin became a civilian programme: the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (F.I.D.S.). To its original aim of strengthening British sovereignty in the Antarctic was added the secondary purpose of advancing scientific research.

Unperturbed by these British activities, Argentina and Chile continued to make counterclaims, with several Argentine bases also being set up. The situation became a minor crisis in the 1947-8 season, as the three protagonists began the ‘performance of various symbolic acts designed to reinforce and publicise sovereignty claims’ (Beck, op.cit., 33). Chile’s President Videla made a personal visit to open a base named in his honour and sent warships to Antarctic waters, Argentina sent a party of eight warships and several support vessels to the South Shetlands, while the Governor of the Falkland Islands, Sir Miles Clifford, was sent on a tour of British Antarctic bases aboard the cruiser HMS Nigeria ‘as a symbol of British authority’ (ibid.).

It was during this rather fraught diplomatic stand-off that two filmmakers from Ealing Studios, assisted by a veteran of the original Tabarin crew, arrived on board a F.I.D.S. re-supply boat (the Trepassey) in order to obtain some genuine Antarctic footage for a film of Captain Scott’s last expedition.

Ealing Studios had raised the possibility of Foreign Office assistance for such a film in mid-1945, but were turned down; however, the Colonial Office saw potential in both the film and the possibility of obtaining documentary footage, and re-opened correspondence in December 1945 (CO78/221/11).

By late 1946 an arrangement had been agreed: passage to the Antarctic on a F.I.D.S. vessel would be arranged, and the camera crew were permitted to take any such footage as they needed. The studio would pay a sum of £50 costs, and agree ‘to take 10,000 feet of raw film for a documentary film of the work of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, the exposed and developed film to be handed over in an unedited condition to the Colonial Office on the return of your representatives’ (ibid., letter of 5 November 1946, Juxon Barton [Colonial Office] to Leslie Baker [Ealing Studios]). Falklands: The Story is the result of this agreement; the photographer, O. H. Borrowdale, is also named [‘Osmond Borradaile’] as director of photography on director Charles Frend’s 1948 Ealing production, Scott of the Antarctic, and the numerous scenes in Scottwhich are undoubtedly shot in the Antarctic (e.g. shots of Adélie penguins, etc.) are thus also traceable to these events. 



Cecil Barton (‘Juxon’, used in correspondence, was a middle name), an old Empire hand then employed in the Colonial Office, had taken an interest in the possible Scott film from the start, as he considered that it could have a useful propaganda value (‘a film of this great Exploration Epic will have a bearing upon our national prestige and upon the work which is now being done by the F.I.D.S’ [ibid., telegram from Barton to Sir A. Cardinall, Falkland Islands]). The Central Office of Information’s films division was initially doubtful of offering Government assistance, but a letter from the Board of Trade appears to have provided reassurance – British filmmakers needed help and British films were useful to displace American product. They could also be exported, and, ‘[a]part from their economic importance, films have “intangible” values – “The British Way of Life”, “Trade Follows the Flag” and so forth…a good film on a Colonial theme will always be helpful to your department by making the public more “Empire conscious”.’ (ibid., letter from Board of Trade to CO, 26 September 1946).

The film, issued in 1948 (the same year as Frend’s Scott), responds to the Antarctic political situation assertively, and is in great part a completed checklist of all the necessary conditions for a legitimate claim to sovereignty: discovery, permanent peaceful occupation, development of the territory (weather-monitoring and telegraphic stations, post offices – ‘a sure sign of permanency’), and similar. The emphasis throughout is on the absolutely unquestionable legal status of the British presence. There are several, sometimes sarcastic, references to Chilean and Argentine claims (after shots of a derelict and destroyed whaling station, the narrator wonders if such trifles are ‘the source of the fabulous wealth of which the President of Chile talks?’) and a sequence of typical Antarctic wildlife is the cue for mentioning current events: ‘the local inhabitants, undisturbed by the annual visit of the relief ship, have been startled out of their usual calm by the sudden arrival of an assorted collection of warships, one President, and five admirals.’ The double meaning is clear: the British ‘local inhabitants’ are as naturally Antarctic as seals and penguins, and just as surprised to have been interrupted in their work by a faintly ludicrous Latin American circus. The Empire, even here, is in the natural order of things.

Aside from these contemporary issues, Falklands: The Story offers an interesting case study on what being ‘Empire conscious’ might mean. The ‘British Crown lands’ shown in the film were frozen, uninhabited wastes at the end of the world, of limited strategic use and virtually no known economic value. Their importance as Imperial propaganda material is thus completely purified of any local humanitarian interest – there was no burgeoning nation to help to its feet, no nascent home-grown industry which could benefit from British expertise, and no natives upon whom to bestow healthcare. The Colonial Office’s vision of the values of and reasons for Empire is thus displayed in particularly crystalline form. Empire and the helpful advance of science are necessary and good things even where there is nothing but water, rock and ice, and the weather and scientific stations to perform ‘useful jobs for the benefit of all that sail or fly’ in the Antarctic. Legitimately extending its universal usefulness over these sterile Antarctic promontories just as carefully and thoughtfully as it does over the teeming millions of Africa and Asia, Empire is presented as a force for the general good, ameliorating dangers, and planting the flags of modern civilisation in the polar ice.

Francis Gooding (November 2009)


Works Cited

Auburn, F. M. Antarctic Law and Politics (London: C. Hurst & Co., 1982).

Beck, Peter J. The International Politics of Antarctica (London: Croome Helm,1986).

Fuchs, Sir Vivian  Of Ice and Men: The Story of the British Antarctic Survey 1943-73 (Oswestry: Anthony Nelson, 1982).

Hunter Christie, E. W. The Antarctic Problem: An Historical and Political Study (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1949).

NA: CO 78/221/11 ‘Antarctic Film – Captain Scott’s Last Expedition’.




Technical Data


Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Central Office of Information
Colonial Office
Production Company
Editorial Film Productions