To mark the Armistice Centenary rare footage from the Western Front is touring the UK this autumn, including Skipton Town Hall, with live orchestral music written by composer Laura Rossi.
The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks (1917) is a little-known masterpiece of British non-fiction cinema which documents the autumn and winter stages of the Somme campaign on the Western Front.
Whilst the film is not quite the first of its kind - The Battle of the Somme (1916) covered the opening phase of the campaign - The Battle of the Ancre is generally considered the better film cinematically and it contains haunting images of trench warfare, notably of the mud that beset the battlefields, the waves of troops advancing into no man’s land, the use of horses and the first views of the ‘Tank’, the secret weapon which it was hoped would break the military deadlock on the Western Front.
Dr Toby Haggith, Senior Curator at the Department of Second World War at the Imperial War Museum, is keen to emphasis the importance and significance of the film.
‘The general opinion of Battle of the Ancre was that the new film was incredibly realistic, giving viewers a powerful sense of being present on the battlefield. Although shot at distance and sometimes poorly exposed, this footage is a powerful actual record of battle, showing soldiers hurrying into a misty no man’s land, or clambering out of successive lines of trenches and advancing towards a skyline overshadowed by fracturing clouds of shrapnel shells.’
In 2012, the Imperial War Museum collaborated on the restoration of the film, digitally restoring it and including missing sections discovered after an extensive search in film archives around the world.
The IWM also commissioned an original score composed from British composer Laura Rossi who is perhaps best known for her work providing new scores for silent films, including The Battle of the Somme (1915) and a selection of very early cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare (1899-1911) that appeared as Silent Shakespeare in 1998.
Rossi’s music for the The Battle of the Ancre is written for a chamber orchestra, divided into five movements to accompany the five parts of the film. It depicts the varied emotions conveyed throughout the film, reflecting the more poignant moments as well as echoing brighter scenes of the high-spirited soldiers.
Conductor Ben Crick is particularly excited about the film's screening and the role Rossi's music will play:
'I've always believed that music can communicate the meaning of a situation with much more eloquence and resonance than words and Laura’s music does this with incredible effect. You can not overstate the extent to which the First World War irrevocably changed the world and what this film and Laura’s music does is tell that seismic change through hundreds of private and very human stories, It’s a unique window into history and a very moving experience.'
The Battle of the Ancre and Advance of the Tanks will be screened on Friday 9 November at 7.30pm at Skipton Town Hall with music written by Laura Rossi performed live by Skipton Camerata.