To coincide with the launch of the first phase of Illuminated River, an ambitious new public art commission that will eventually see up to 15 bridges lit along the Thames, the BFI
have specially curated an online collection of films drawn from the BFI National Archive, available now to view for free on BFI Player. Londons Bridges on Film represents 100+ years of life on the Thames, with the earliest film in the collection, Blackfriars Bridge from 1896.
Celebrating the heritage, culture and history of the river these selected films capture the daily interaction of Londoners at work Thames Division (1955), The Open Road (1926), Drills at Southwark and New HQ (1936), Railway Bridge Across the Thames (1968) and at play We Are The Lambeth Boys (1959) Womens Thames Swim (1921), Canoe (1961), Sidewalk Surfing (1978) while showcasing the architecture of the bridges themselves South Bank (1973), Ten Bridges (1957), Rebuilding of London Bridge (1967). The collection foregrounds the role of the bridges as vital links unifying both sides of the river with a selection of films from a variety of sources including travelogues, news reports, industrial films, documentaries, fiction film rushes and amateur home movies.
The Thames is Londons vital artery, the bridges the unifying branches connecting all points of the capital. The tidal ebb and flow of the river and its bridges has been a draw for filmmakers since the earliest years of the moving image, when Victorian pioneer RW Paul set up his camera on Blackfriars Bridge to record the movement of passers-by. From Westminster Bridge in Danny Boyles 28 Days Later, the Millennium Bridge in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince through to Tower Bridge in Bridget Joness Diary and James Bonds heart-stopping river chase in The World is Not Enough, the Thames and its iconic bridges landmarks in their own right, have been central to the projection of Londons global identity on screen.
Following the rivers progress downstream, this themed collection looks at the history of London through the prism of the Thames, reflecting the citys industrial and economic progress, a place to work and live and enjoy leisure activities as well as an opportunity to interact with nature and the environment and experience the rivers unique cultural traditions. Transportation is also key, traversing the river by barge, speedboat, sailing boats, rowing boats, canoes, swimmers and even by barrel.
Following the Thames from its idyllic country setting in the West through the Central London landmarks, past the Pool of London, down to the Docklands and beyond, the rivers bridges are seen from multiple angles; underneath from the river itself, looking down from the bridge onto the river, shot from the riverbank, and head on from street level, against the flow of traffic of pedestrians, horse drawn vehicles, bikes, buses, trams, cars, lorries and skateboards. The collection charts the changing look of the Thames along the banks of the river, with a record of the built environment as well as the structure of the bridges themselves documenting demolition, reconstruction and redevelopment.
Taking his place alongside these filmmakers as well as a long line of artists who have been inspired by the Thames, Illuminated River artist Leo Villareal has harnessed the latest LED technology to paint with light across the bridge structures, producing sequenced patterns that subtly unfold, using colours influenced by the palettes of Impressionist and English Romantic painters to reveal each bridges individual history and architectural features, into a unified vision.
The first phase of Illuminated River has now launched with London, Cannon Street Railway, Southwark and Millennium bridges being lit up. The next phase of the project, due for completion in Autumn 2020, will include Waterloo Bridge, the home and physical roof of BFI Southbank, in a stunning new redevelopment of the BFIs riverfront bar and restaurant. The artwork, conceived by internationally-acclaimed American artist Leo Villareal and award-winning British architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, and delivered by the Illuminated River Foundation, celebrates the culture, creativity and nightlife of London. Once complete, the project will be the longest public art commission in the world at 2.5 miles in length, along 4.5 nautical miles of the River Thames and is expected to be seen by over 137 million people during its 10 year lifespan.
Highlights from the Londons Bridges on Film collection
· Blackfriars Bridge (1896) The earliest film in the collection, RW Paul is interested in the novelty of movement, watching passers-by as they cross the bridge.
· Tower Bridge Boats on The Thames (1905) A snapshot of Edwardian London, showing London Bridge busy with horse-drawn traffic, looking to Cannon Street Station and Fishmongers' Hall beyond.
· Central London Street Scenes (1923) These atmospheric fog-bound scenes were originally shot for Maurice Elveys Sherlock Holmes feature The Sign of Four, including a climactic speedboat chase down the Thames.
· The Open Road (1926, released 2006) Ground breaking cross-country travelogue by colour cinematography pioneer Glaude Friese-Greene, documenting life on the road from Land's End to John O' Groats includes a spellbinding view of London Bridge
· Arctic London (1929) During an unusually harsh winter, a frozen trawler the 'Warter Priory' arrives on the river Thames from the North Sea.
· Opening of the New Lambeth Bridge (1932) Seen from street level outside Lambeth Palace King George V crosses the newly opened bridge in his carriage followed by a parade of troops and patriotic crowds.
· Drills at Southwark and New HQ (1936) Shot from the river on Albert Embankment between Vauxhall and Lambeth Bridge, the film shows construction on the London Fire Brigades new HQ flanked by two striking lost buildings, the art deco WH Smiths building and Royal Doulton pottery works.
· Colour on the Thames (1935) a portrait of a bygone age this strikingly peaceful and undemanding journey down the Thames provides a rare glimpse of 1930s London in colour.
· Father Thames (1935) Delightful poetic travelogue tracing the river from its humble origins through the heart of the grime of London, from Hampton Court in the west to Greenwich Palace in the East.
· River Thames Yesterday (1939) Shot by legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff, this Technicolor travelogue takes a gentle journey down the Thames, on the eve of the outbreak of war.
· Thames Division (1955) (Londons Screen Archives) Engaging documentary on the working life of the Thames river police, the first policing body ever formed as well as the rivers murky past.
· Ten Bridges (1957) Cockney buskers Wynn and Bill set the mood in this evocative 1950s journey along the Thames taking in life on the river from sunrise to sunset
· We are the Lambeth Boys (1959) Karel Reiszs classic Free Cinema portrait of South London teenagers features the boys crossing Westminster Bridge, and the banter with passers-by.
· Canoe (1961) Evocative, colourful amateur film following a canoe trip down the Thames following the canoeists downstream from Surrey to Greenwich, alongside working boats on the river.
· Rebuilding of London Bridge (1967) (Londons Screen Archives, from Museum of London) Construction work on the new bridge takes place alongside the old bridge being dismantled, before it was famously sold and reconstructed in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
· Railway Bridge Across the Thames (1968) A technical triumph, this Informative documentary details the impressive engineering feat taken to construct the new Grosvenor Bridge between Battersea and Pimlico whilst continuing train services into and out of Victoria.
· South Bank (1973) A report for This week in Britain on the redevelopment of the Southbank showing construction of the National Theatre and the NFT, Hayward Gallery and Queen Elizabeth Hall in the shadow of Waterloo Bridge. Made by the COI (Central Office of Information), the programme was aimed at promoting British culture, science and industry to international audiences showcasing the capitals iconic landmarks.
· Sidewalk Surfing (1978) A magazine item looking at the explosion of skateboarding culture in the capital and the opening of Skate City at Tower Bridge. This redubbed report for This Week in Britain features some cool moves from a skater, deftly weaving his way across London Bridge.