The Irish Question: Newsreels and National Identity
Cinema newsreels have often been dismissed for their triviality and their cavalier approach to politics. However, since their appearance shortly after the birth of film, they remain important records of what the cinema-going public was told about events, personalities and social and cultural life across the globe. They were often pro-establishment and the British newsreels in particular celebrated notions of empire, royalty and industrial prowess. It is interesting to consider these newsreels in the context of ‘colonized’ audiences in an era when the British Empire was beginning to fragment. From the earliest newsreels available to cinema audiences in Ireland through to the medium’s diminishing popularity with the growth of television in the 1950s, indigenous news production was rare and short-lived. The majority of newsreels produced for Irish audiences were therefore provided by British companies, which faced unique challenges when attempting to cover turbulent events and cater for Irish audiences with a shifting range of political sensibilities. This meant that Ireland watched a portrayal of itself that was tinged with imperial and post-colonial connotations and often at odds with day-to-day reality. Given the political conflict associated with twentieth-century Ireland, the newsreels, which often sought to avoid controversy, were frequently contentious and occasionally initiated audience outbursts and cinema protests. This chapter will explore the newsreels’ ‘partitionist’ construction of Ireland both before and after its partition. It will consider how cinema news, often maligned and marginalized by historians, powerfully constructed two emerging states amidst a flurry of government manipulation and political propaganda. It will also examine the newsreel’s potential to construct and subvert various forms of national identity in the psyche of the viewing public.