This film is held by the BFI (ID: 21685).


Against the backdrop of the castles of the Gold Coast, the film shows the life of the local inhabitants.

The commentator outlines a brief history of the 'gleaming castles along the coast of Western Africa', explaining how the Union Jack now 'floats peacefully' over these former fortresses. First, it shows the castle at Cape Coast, and then a succession of other castles, including Dixcove - where local African children play and learn 'English grammar' - and Elmina, 'the most beautiful castle of them all'. Over shots of fishing boats on the beach, the commentator recounts the history behind the castle. Next comes Shama castle - 'unreal it seems, like a toy castle almost' - before the film switches its focus to the local fishermen. The locals pull their fishing boat ashore and display their catch. The local women cut open the fish, which are then smoked in wooden fires in the round kilns on show throughout the village. After further shots of a local village, naked children run into the sea laughing. This is followed by further scenes from the beach, showing the mending of a net. Finally, over shots of the castle, the commentator reiterates the changes in the area under British rule, concluding that now the 'forgotten fortress is a resting house, where the Englishman can shelter for the night as he journeys through on his official round to find out how best to care for and help the native races of West Africa'.



In 1934, Sight and Sound published a review for three films – Message of the Drum, Me Proper Black Man and Castles and Fisher Folk – all of which were produced by Publicity Films for Cadbury’s, under the direction of Walter Creighton. The review claimed that ‘these films are the work of a film unit which visited the West Coast of Africa last year to bring back material from which to make various advertising pictures for Cadbury’s’ (Sight and Sound, Winter 1934, 148). Rachael Low clarified that the trip by Creighton and his cameraman James Rogers took place in 1932, with Creighton, who had previously worked with the Empire Marketing Board on imperial titles such as One Family, now working for Publicity Films, a subsidiary of the London Press Exchange that specialised in ‘high quality advertising films’ (Low, 1979, 132-133). Creighton completed the Cadbury Films at the Publicity Films’ studios in Merton Park, and the company would subsequently produce additional films for Cadbury’s, including the 1936 titles, Sweet Success, which was a training film for retailers, and Plantation People, a film made in Technicolor about cocoa growing in Trinidad.

Sight and Sound noted that Message of the Drum, Me Proper Black Man and Castles and Fisher Folk ‘are being exhibited in cinemas throughout the country where screen-space is purchasable’ (Sight and Sound, Winter 1934, 148). Indeed, Castles and Fisher Folk was included on a free film programme that was organised by the Education Department of Publicity Films ‘under the auspices of Cadbury Bros.’ and that also included Creighton’s four-reel story of cocoa manufacture, The Night Watchman’s Story and Crystal Champions, a short American sports film featuring Johnny Weissmuller. Sight and Sound explained that these films were provided with an operator, portable R.C.A. sound apparatus and a large 9ft x 5ft screen. The report noted that the bookings include ‘public and private schools, adult education centres, literary societies, Y.M.C.A., Y.W.C.A., and other educational organisations’ and added that while the scheme was initially available only within Greater London, it was now ‘being extended to the provinces and possibly to unemployed audiences’ (Sight and Sound, Autumn 1933, 104). 

Castles and Fisher Folk also played at the Tivoli Palace Theatre on 10 December 1933 as part of the Film Society programme. It was described here as a film of ‘singularly beautiful and completely forgotten scenes’ which, despite its sponsor, ‘is purely pictorial, and contains no advertising matter’ (‘The Film Society Programmes’, 1972, 273). Sight and Sound also commented on the ‘sheer beauty of much of the material’ and described the sequences as ‘ravishing in their loveliness’. However, this review complained that ‘the approach to this glorious material is purely superficial… it has obviously been shot without any plan as to how it was going to be cut’. The ‘bombastic’ commentaries also came in for criticism. Spoken by Basil Gill, who was one of the country’s leading Shakespearean actors, Sight and Sound complained that the commentary was ‘far too Irvinesque for the fondant material, and are inclined to distract attention from the merit of the visuals’ (Sight and Sound, Winter 1934, 148). 



Although Castles and Fisher Folk was, as the final title notes, prepared for Cadbury’s, it makes no other mention of either the company or the cocoa industry and elides Cadbury’s economic interest within the area. However, the film does promote an idealised image of the Gold Coast, of contented locals and, in particular, of the positive role of the British within the area, in bringing peace and change to the Gold Coast.

The commentary presents a history of West Africa, in which the British appear as peacemakers, transforming an area of fighting and destruction into one of peace. The castles appear as symbols of this change, as the opening commentary explains that they were ‘once fortresses’ in the 15th century when a number of countries were fighting for control of West Africa, but ‘now the Union Jack floats peacefully over those fantastic castles’. Later a local walks ‘out on the battlements where before only the power of bloodshed ruled the land’. The British have further developed the area – for example the Castle at Cape Coast was ‘built by the Portuguese and later enlarged by the English’ – and furthermore, the film suggests that, in contrast to its previous historical struggles, the country positively embraces and welcomes the British involvement. This is most blatantly revealed as the commentator describes a ‘native boy [who] comes out to learn his English grammar’.

The second half of the film focuses on the locals and their fishing industry. In doing so, it focuses on the physicality of the local populations in a way that is consistent with the visual tropes of colonial discourse. This is evident for example in the close-ups of the men pulling in the boats – a shot subsequently reused in the GPO film God’s Chillun (1938) – and also in the sequence showing the naked children running into the sea. These children are shown laughing and smiling at the camera, as the film promotes an image of a happy local community. The historical background offered in the first half of the film creates a context for these shots, aligning the peaceful and joyous activities of the children and fishermen with the introduction of British rule.

The commentary, spoken earnestly by an actor more accustomed to the dialogue of Shakespeare, offers a highly romanticised account of the work of the British within the area. This is evident in the final lines as the commentator states that ‘the palm trees shimmer in the evening light, the breakers beat out echoes of the past, of bloodshed, of cruelty, of slavery forever ended in these days when the forgotten fortress is a resting house, where the Englishman can shelter for the night as he journeys through on his official round to find out how best to care for and help the native races of West Africa’. Here, all of the components within the film come together: the poetic language – ‘the palm trees shimmer’; the clear contrast between the previous European rule – bloodshed, cruelty and slavery ­– and the modern British counterpart; the image of the castle as a symbol of this change – ‘the forgotten fortress is a resting house’; and finally the endorsement of paternalistic British rule and development, as the British officials seek to ‘care for and help the native races of West Africa’.

Tom Rice (September 2008)


Works Cited

‘The Film Society Programmes, 1925-1939’ (Arno Press, 1972), 273.

Low, Rachael, The History of British Film, 1929 - 1939: Films of Comment and Persuasion of the 1930's (London: Allen and Unwin, 1979).

Roberts, Andrew D., ‘Africa on Film to 1940’, History in Africa, Vol. 14, 1987, 189-227.

‘The Non-Fiction Film’, Sight and Sound, Autumn 1933, 104.

‘Non-Fiction Films’, Sight and Sound, Winter 1934, 148.




Technical Data

Running Time:
11 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
1006 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
GILL, Basil
ROGERS, James E.
Production Company
Publicity Films
COOPER, Marcus