This film is held by the BFI (ID: 19126).


Kandy, Colombo and the Kelani river.

Market scene in Kandy. Merchants display their wares, while people, children and animals jostle each other past stalls (33). A street scene in Colombo; ox-wagons vie with carriages drawn by bullocks; men and children sit on the shop steps and watch as women pass by carrying parasols (118). Women and children pose in a group; inhabitants of a fishing village (146). Four children (160). Village with wooden hut, woman sits outside in shade of palm tree. Hogs run around and into a straw heap, one being chased out towards the woman under the palm tree (186). Climbing competition shows a young man climbing a palm tree; while two women sit below grinding corn. 480ft

Includes shot of Cingalese fakirs.



Scenes in Ceylon is one of a series of titles produced by Hepworth in Ceylon during 1909. Indeed less than two months after reviewing Scenes in Ceylon, Bioscope wrote of a new Hepworth title, Cingalese Village Life, which it described in strikingly similar terms. ‘Some quaint pictures among the natives in Ceylon’, it wrote, ‘showing the street market, Kandy, a fishing village, natives climbing cokernut [sic] palms and a native magician at his tricks’ (Bioscope, 1 April 1909, 27). Furthermore, a number of sequences described in contemporary reviews for Scenes in Ceylon – ‘a large native laundry’, ‘a moonlight trip on the river’, ‘the bazaar at Kandy and the famous temple of the Sacred Tooth’ – are not evident in this surviving copy (KW, 11 Feb 1909, 1085). It is quite possible therefore that this footage belongs to another Hepworth title from the same expedition (KW, 11 Feb 1909, 1085).

The pictures in Ceylon have been credited to James Scott-Brown, who also filmed in Egypt and British North Borneo for Hepworth during the year. In his autobiography, Cecil Hepworth recalls sending Scott-Brown to Egypt – from where he brought back the ‘tremendously popular Moonlight on the Nile’ – and to British North Borneo, where he was given ‘the strictest instructions to send every bit of film home just as soon as it was exposed’. Hepworth also recalls that ‘we introduced the staining of various scenes to enhance the effect’ on many of Scott-Brown’s films – ‘blue for night, red for firelight and so on’ (Hepworth, 1951, 68, 69, 79). Bioscope stated that this effect was used on Scenes in Ceylon, describing the film as a ‘good travel picture opening with a splendid cloud effect which would be better if it were not tinted red’ (Bioscope, 11 February 1909, 14). In its review of Cingalese Village Life, Moving Picture World commented more favourably that ‘many of the views are beautifully tinted’, while the surviving extracts from Cinghalese Dances (1910) at the BFI National Archive reveal a tinted film print (MPW, 12 June 1909, 809).

Scenes in Ceylon was listed for release in America through Empire Film Co. on 22 May 1909, followed a few weeks later by Cingalese Village Life. Scott-Brown’s footage seemingly played throughout the Empire. For example, a notice in a New Zealand newspaper in May 1909 stated that Cingalese Village Life would play at His Majesty’s Theatre, and three months later in August, a further notice explained that ‘travel scenes in Ceylon form another fine series’ at the theatre (Wellington Evening Post, 6 May 1909, 2, 21 August 1909, 3). 



Scenes in Ceylon offers ethnographic pictures of local life in Ceylon. These travelogues served on the one hand to bring these distant parts of the Empire to the ‘stay-at-home’ viewer, offering, in the words of film scholar Alison Griffiths, ‘virtual travel and vicarious identification’ for the viewer (Griffiths, 1999, 293) This is evident in reviews which noted how the film ‘takes us into a large native laundry’ and ‘gives us glimpses’, while the titles also introduce ‘a glimpse of Colombo’ (KW, 11 February 1909, 1085). The language suggests a brief, voyeuristic capture of previously concealed images of local life. However, the scenes displayed largely conform to audience expectations of ‘the East’ and play on familiar imagery from other cultural forms, such as postcards. For example, the film contains an evidently staged scene showing a boy climbing a coconut tree. It presents ‘native magic’ performed directly for the camera and deliberately shows its artifice, for example, when lining up local children in front of the camera. Furthermore, the intertitles privilege the British viewer and highlight these established western notions of racial difference. One title refers to ‘another quaint village’, while the flippant, jocular tone – ‘In Ceylon, Jumbo, the elephant does most of the heavy work’; ‘should you wish to try – this is the correct way to climb a tree’ – further differentiates the viewer from the people and images displayed on screen.

In contrast to Government-sponsored films, like A Trip through British North Borneo (1907) or the later British Instructional films of the 1920s, Scenes in Ceylon offers little commentary on the people, industries or indeed British influences within Ceylon. It does contrast Kandy, ‘the old capital of Ceylon’, with the modern British capital Colombo, which features ox-driven carts and a ‘Metropolitan Bar’ but for the most part these sequences display the exoticism of the locals to this western audience.

Tom Rice (September 2009)


Works Cited

‘Scenes in Ceylon’, Bioscope, 11 February 1909, 14.

‘Cingalese Village Life’, Bioscope, 1 April 1909, 27.

Griffiths, Alison, “'To the World the World We Show': Early Travelogues as Filmed Ethnography”, Film History, Vol. 11, No. 3, Early Cinema (1999), 282-307.

Hepworth, Cecil M., Came the Dawn: Memories of a Film Pioneer (London: Phoenix House, 1951).

‘Scenes in Ceylon’, Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly, 11 February 1909, 1085.

Moving Picture World, 22 May 1909, 688.

‘Cingalese Village’, Moving Picture World, 12 June 1909, 809.

Wellington Evening Post, 6 May 1909, 2.

Wellington Evening Post, 21 August 1909, 3. 



  • NATIVE LIFE IN CEYLON (Alternative)

Technical Data

Running Time:
8 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
400 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Production Company
Hepworth Manufacturing Company