Marking the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, this BFI restoration presents a popular home-grown hit from the silent era, which used lavish resources, courtesy of the Admiralty, to recreate a famous naval engagement from the first months of the war. Coronel, off the Chilean coast, marked the Royal Navy’s first defeat in a century when Admiral Graf Von Spee’s imposing flagship Scharnhorst sank HMS Good Hope with the loss of all hands. Revenge however was waiting when the German battle cruisers subsequently headed for the Falkland Islands.
The Isles of Scilly stand in for the empire’s southern Atlantic outpost, otherwise it’s authenticity all the way, with the 1927 British fleet providing real warships – named in the cast list rather than the actors! – and the whole reconstruction is a precious window into the booming naval battles of yore. True, the prevailing imperialist attitudes are somewhat time-locked, but the film is surprisingly generous towards Von Spree and his forces. Moreover, the sheer filmmaking craft, integrating genuine naval hardware with studio sets, displays ambition to marvel at.
Simon Dobson’s splendid martial score, appropriately performed by the Band of HM Royal Marines, sets the seal on a vivid and valuable historical document.