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The Living Picture Craze: An Introduction to Victorian Film

Film takes a starring role in this course exploring the emergence of a new medium that was set to capture the world's imagination

6,849 enrolled on this course

The Living Picture Craze: An Introduction to Victorian Film

6,849 enrolled on this course

  • 3 weeks

  • 3 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Introductory level

Find out more about how to join this course

Explore the birth of film and the end of Queen Victoria’s epic reign

Roll up! Roll up! Take your seats for the ‘Living Picture’ craze! In this course we journey back to the end of the Victorian era; a time of intense modernisation and unprecedented change.

Using the BFI’s unique collection of surviving Victorian films we will debate common myths about the period and the materials, as well as examine what the films reveal about the society that produced them.

We will be your expert guides to these incredible films, leading you through the many spectacles and curiosities made during film’s formative years, 1895-1901.

Skip to 0 minutes and 35 seconds Such a bustle and a hurry o’er the ‘living picture’ craze. Rivals rushing, full of worry in these advertising days. Each the first and each the only, each the others widely chaff. All of them proclaiming boldly, ‘There’s the first A-kind-o-graph’. But it’s a wonder, really, how the constant flood of life O’er the screen keeps moving freely. Full of action, stir and strife. There the waves are wildly breaking. There the swimmer stems the tide. The cyclist his record making, with the countless varied scenes beside. ‘Tis far from perfect in its movements. ‘Tis very hard upon the eyes. The jolty wobble no improvements, smooth-running films a surprise.

Skip to 1 minute and 27 seconds Still, successful beyond reason, spite of all its erring ways, Holding first place in the season is the living picture craze.

What topics will you cover?

  • Investigate the late Victorian period in Britain. Unravel and discuss common myths about the era, and examine what Victorian films reveal about the society that produced them.
  • Examine how film became a key medium to explore the rapidly-changing Victorian world; both at home and abroad. Discover why a phantom ride isn’t as scary as it sounds, and have the opportunity to make your own to share with peers.
  • Explore the Victorian imagination and learn about what audiences watched and why. Watch and examine a wide variety of films from comedies and trick films to serious dramas and adaptations.
  • Draw parallels with the visual spectacles available in the Victorian period and our own multimedia landscape.
  • Programme a dynamic play bill for a Victorian audience and explain your choices.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Recognise different types of the earliest film materials made in the UK between 1895 and 1901.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how myths and stereotypes of the period have developed and explain what viewpoints might be more appropriate.
  • Assess and discuss the origins of film (and film projection) and be able to identify who the key personalities were in its development.
  • Show some comprehension of the period - the tastes and fashions, along with the entertainment industry itself - by creating a curated film programme for a specific audience.

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone with a passion for film and Victorian and British history. This includes lecturers, teachers and students of film, media, history or English literature.

Who will you learn with?

I've been working at the BFI in London for over 20 years, looking after a range of education programmes and projects. Before that I taught in schools in south London as an English and Media teacher.

I'm a producer and educator at the BFI specialising in working with our archive collections and cultural programmes. To date I’ve made over 60 short films which explore the UK's rich film heritage.

I'm a curator at the BFI National Archive - the UK's national archive for film, TV and online moving image. I specialise in our earliest films from 1895 to 1930

Who developed the course?

The British Film Institute (BFI)

The British Film Institute (BFI) was founded in 1933 and is a charity governed by a Royal Charter. It has three priorities – education, supporting the UK film industry and unlocking film heritage.

Endorsers and supporters

supported by

Bill Douglas Cinema Museum logo

supported by

University of Exeter

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Ways to learn

Choose the best way to learn for you!

Buy this course

$54/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Subscribe & save

$349.99 for one year

Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 5 Aug 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

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