Cape to Cairo: Moving Images of Colonial Africa

We examine the relationship between Britain and its African colonies, and the complex representation of this in film and television.

At its height after World War One, the British Empire claimed 58 countries, 400 million subjects, and 14 million square miles of ground. This included vast swathes of African territory, much of which had been colonised over the previous 50 years during the ‘Scramble for Africa’. The rapid expansion of Britain’s African colonies was matched by its equally sudden decline in the aftermath of World War Two.

Cape to Cairo reveals these monumental historical shifts. Many films from the height of colonial dominance offer an uncritical view of British rule, celebrating the ‘civilisation’ of an ‘untamed’ land, while later films reveal programmes of social and industrial development and finally the emergence of independent nations. Films made specifically for African audiences, local film productions and documentaries made decades after British rule, also feature in this exciting new collection.

Ten to try

The Landing of Savage South Africa at Southampton (1899)

One of the earliest British films depicting genuine African people, seen performing at Earls Court as part of the Greater Britain Exhibition.

How a British Bulldog Saved the Union Jack (1906)

A plucky hound rescues a British cavalryman from a treacherous Zulu in this Edwardian flagwaver.

Sanders of the River (1935)

Zoltan Korda’s controversial colonial epic starring Paul Robeson. The film was later rejected by Robeson because of its patronising attitude to West Africans, and lampooned in the 1937 cartoon Steve of the River.

The Consoling Weed (1937)

This promotional film shot in Rhodesia extols the virtues of smoking tobacco.

Rhodes of Africa (1936)

The rise of Cecil Rhodes (Walter Huston) from diamond miner to prime minister of the Cape Colony.

Africa’s Fighting Men (1943)

A film made for African audiences, outlining their contribution to the war effort.

Nigerian Footballers in England (1949)

Coverage of the Nigerian team, the first to leave West Africa, on a five-week tour.

Simba (1955)

Love story set amid the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, starring Dirk Bogarde.

Giant in the Sun (1959)

Beautiful colour documentary showing Nigeria’s preparations for self-government.

Home From the Hill (1987)

Molly Dineen documents Colonel Hilary Hook’s return from Kenya to the UK, and his difficulties with adapting to modern British life.

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