20th century countryside films released by BFI

The films from the 'Rural Life' collection date back more than a hundred years

Published: May 25th, 2016 at 5:01 pm


The British Film Institute (BFI) has released more than 750 films focused around the countryside in its Rural Life collection.

The collection covers the period from 1900 all the way through to 1999, and many of the films have been unseen until now.

The films form part of the BFI’s Britain on Film project, which reveals some histories and stories of people and places that otherwise may have been forgotten.

Every corner of Britain is represented, say the BFI, and the archive films will also be visiting more than 125 locations around the country for special screenings and events.

© British Film Institute

The films chart countryside and rural life, highlighting activities, traditions and countryside pursuits, and how these things have changed over time. Some of these still survive today, but many have since dwindled or disappeared.

One such example is ‘Postman Plus,’ which charts the period of time when postbuses were far more common in rural areas than they are now. In addition to simply delivering mail, postbuses provided a small public transport service to members of the community for whom getting around was difficult.

Another video shows how unwritten Dartmoor laws allowed anyone to occupy a plot of land, provided they could build it, mark out their enclosure, thatch the roof and have smoke coming out of the chimney in just one day.


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From Britain on Film available at BFI Player

A tour of Scotland’s dramatic and unique scenery, Somerset’s Punky Night lantern procession and a seal kept in a Norfolk village pond are among the other subjects portrayed in the films.

The BFI National Archive was set up over 80 years ago, and now features nearly 200,000 films and 750,000 television programmes.

“These films offer an unrivalled record of our rural heritage in all its richness across the 20th century,” said Robin Baker, Head Curator of the BFI’s National Archive. “It’s an immersive experience to watch them, and often deeply moving.”|

“People who live and work in the countryside will be fascinated to see how their forbears used to live,” he added. “This collection of films offers all of us an extraordinary and very real social history of the British countryside.


“It’s a very potent portrait of an often neglected cornerstone of our national life.”



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