This film is held by the BFI (ID: 458891).


Main title (1). "A cinematographic record of the magnificent & historical ceremonies of December 12th, 1911." (7). In a large arena, kilted British soldiers are marched to their positions in front of the large dais (55). "March of the Indian Mutiny veterans." (61). March past of the veterans (113). "Arrival of the King." (116). XLS of the massed ranks of soldiers as the Royal carriage and cavalry escort pass through them (128). Arrival at the smaller dais of the Royal carriage. King George V and Queen Mary, in their regalia, alight (152). Closer view of the dais and the King and Queen enthroned (oblique view). The Princes of India pay homage (173). "How the Gaekwar of Baroda paid homage to King George." (178). Four Indian princes, separately pay homage (211). "The Begum of Bhopal the only lady who paid homage to Their Majesties." (218). The Begum approaches the King and Queen and bows (233). Six further Indian princes pay homage (292). A number of judges in regalia pay homage (303). A line of princes pay homage (317). The Royal party and entourage stand and walk to the larger dais (353). The umbrellas held over the King and Queen can be seen as they pass to the larger dais through the massed ranks of soldiers (484). "The Proclamation." (486). LS of the dais; the King and Queen are enthroned (489). Closer view of the same; the King passes a scroll (?) to the Viceroy (?); pan right of the massed ranks who give three cheers (547). The King and Queen return to the smaller dais (634). "King George presenting colours to British Regiments December 11th, 1911." (643). The Queen alights from a carriage and is escorted to her place in the grandstand (660). The King, in uniform, presents the colours which are blessed by a bishop (715). "The King Emperor and Queen Emperess's garden party December 13th, 1911." (722). The King rides on horseback followed by the Queen and Royal party in a carriage. They pass through the crowds at the garden party. An Indian cavalry escort follows them (823). "King George's great Durbar review of 50,000 Indian troops December 14th, 1911 (829). The Royal Standard is raised (846). The Royal carriage bearing the Queen arrives and she is escorted to the Royal box. The King, in uniform and on horseback, takes the salute as the Indian army marches past (932). The camel corps ride past (948ft).

Note: Other copies are held of 270ft, 480ft, 573ft and 700ft, containing some variations in contents.



‘Durbar’ is a Persian term that was adopted in India to refer to a ruler’s court. It could be used to refer to a feudal state council or to a ceremonial gathering. It was this latter sense that was taken up by the British Raj when, during the ‘high noon’ of Empire, three imperial Durbars were held in Delhi, each marking royal occasions. The first, held in 1877, marked the proclamation of Queen Victoria as Queen Empress of India. The second, held in1902-03, marked the coronation of King Edward VII. The last, held on 12 December 1911, marked the coronation of King George V, and was the only Durbar that the ruler attended in person. The 1911 Durbar cost over £1 million to mount, and was over a year in preparation. Over 200,000 people were expected for the events taking place in Delhi’s Coronation Park (Bottomore, 311).

According to Stephen Bottomore, the ceremony and ritual that accompanied royal visits was an aid ‘in maintaining the submission of India’ (Bottomore, 311). The Durbar was also used for particular political purposes. King George announced the reversal of the unpopular 1905 decision that had partitioned Bengal, while also announcing the transfer of the capital of British India from Calcutta (in Bengal) to Delhi. The royal visit did receive criticism in India, some of it centred on the fact while only crowned ‘King’ in England, George V’s title in India was ‘King-Emperor’ (Trevethick, 1990, 572).

There was also a controversial incident at the Durbar itself. As part of the formalities the Indian Princes were expected to pay obeisance to the King. Here, the modernising Gaekwar of Baroda, who was considered by the British to have seditious tendencies (Bhagavan, 2001, 406), caused offence by performing only a perfunctory bow and then turning his back on the ruler. There is debate over whether this was an intended snub, and whether or not it was the Gaekwar who made this gesture; however the net result was outrage in the British press and a subsequent weakening of the Gaekwar’s power (Bhagaavan, 2001, 406-08; Bottomore, 1997, 331-34).

Royal ceremonials were a popular subject for early newsreels. Consequently this event ‘was probably the greatest effort in news coverage that the young film industry had yet undertaken’ (Bottomore, 1997, 335). Over a dozen cameramen from five different British film companies were despatched to cover the Durbar (Bottomore, 1997, 309, 314). Speed was of the essence, and the companies competed with each other to process their films and rush them back to Britain for viewing (Bottomore, 1997, 325-26). The films were hugely popular in Britain, with interest being fuelled by the ‘Gaekwar Incident’, which had been covered in the British press (Bioscope, 4 January 1912, 11; Bottomore, 1997, 321, 331). The films were also distributed widely abroad; among the countries showing them were India, America, France, Germany, Australia, Fiji, and Singapore (Bottomore, 1997, 328).

Unfortunately, filmmaking wasn’t prioritised at the event itself. The organising officials believed that the cameramen should not be visible to the attendant public, and as such most were confined to filming from a distance (Bottomore, 1997, 318-21). This film of the Durbar was made by the Gaumont Company, which was founded in France in 1895.  According to Bottomore, Gaumont ‘put most effort into it [filming the Durbar], and they were also the first to screen footage back in Britain’ (Bottomore, 1997, 316). The production manager for the project was the head of the British branch of the company, Alfred Bromhead. He employed five of the ‘best and most travelled’ cameramen for the project, including Kenneth Gordon, who would become one of Britain’s most highly regarded newsreel cameramen, and Raymond Gaumont, son of the head of the company (Bottomore, 1997, 316). Gaumont issued the film in three different lengths: 500, 700, and 1000 ft. The longer versions included scenes such as the unveiling of the King Edward Memorial Tablet, the Presentation of Colours, and the Church Parade (Bottomore, 1997, 344).



This cut of the Gaumont footage of the King George V’s tour of India is edited so that it foregrounds what the title card proclaims as the ‘magnificent & historical ceremonies of December 12th 1911’. The Delhi Durbar takes up most of the film, but it is supplemented by footage of the King presenting colours to the British regiments, an event that took place the preceding day, and by a royal garden party and a review of  ‘50,000 Indian troops’, which took place on 13 and 14December respectively.

The Durbar itself is related in chronological order, beginning with a march of veterans from the Indian Mutiny, followed by the arrival of the king, the obeisance of the Princes, and the royal proclamation. As Stephen Bottomore recounts, Gaumont were privileged in being assigned three separate camera positions on the day: shooting from the roof of the spectator’s enclosure; from ground level within the enclosure; and from a platform within the arena itself (Bottomore, 1997, 320-21). Their filmed sequences cut between footage shot from all three of these positions, with a bias towards the cameraman occupying the arena platform. Nevertheless, even from this position much of the action takes place in the distance. In addition, people often stand in front of this camera, obscuring its intended view. It is notable that each of the cameras remains trained on events taking place within the arena area: the vast watching crowds are throughout only visible in the far distance.

What the camera captures instead is the vast scale of the military display (both on the day of the Durbar and in the presenting of colours and the review of troops), and the splendour of the regal formalities. The King and Queen are both in full regalia, wearing crowns and ermine-lined robes. They are being fanned and shaded by a large retinue of Indian serving people, and as they manoeuvre young Indian pageboys carry their trains. As Bottomore notes, the cinema viewer is as divorced from proceedings as a spectator in the stands would be. He states that ‘Perhaps distant camera positions were designed to mirror the respectful human distance with a respectful photographic distance between commoner and royalty’ (Bottomore, 1997, 336, emphasis in original).

The 1911 Durbar nevertheless provided a major cinematic event: the Gaekwar incident. Unlike other media, it was argued that the film footage could provide precise documentation of what had taken place. The Bioscope stated that in doing so the cinema proved its ‘immense superiority over the illustrated newspaper’ (Bioscope, 4 Jan 1912, 11). Gaumont were aware that the public would have come to see this action, and consequently they signal its approach with a intertitle that proclaims, ‘HOW THE GAEKWAR OF BARODA PAID HOMAGE TO KING GEORGE’. However, rather than providing conclusive evidence, the Durbar films caused confusion. In the Gaumont film the sequence begins abruptly and ends inconclusively; it is hard to tell whether the Gaekwar’s actions are intentional or not. In addition, there is footage of the Begum of Bhopal, who also turns her back on the King and Queen. Moreover, there was at least one other Prince who during the ceremonies turned his back on the royal party: different film companies identified different individuals as the Gaekwar. Bottomore believes that the Gaumont film has it wrong, and instead shows the actions of the Maharaja of Mysore (Bottomore, 1997, 334). On seeing the film evidence, some sections of the British press argued that they now believed that the Gaekwar had not made an intended snub (Nuckolls, 1990, 529-59). Nevertheless, regardless of this confusion the images still retained some power: when the Barker Company’s film of the Durbar was shown in Calcutta their footage of the ‘incident’ was edited out (Bottomore, 1997, 331-33).

Richard Osborne (February 2010)


Works Cited

Bhagavan, Manu, ‘Demystifying the 'Ideal Progressive': Resistance through Mimicked Modernity in Princely Baroda, 1900-1913’, Modern Asian Studies, 35/2 (May 2001), 385-409.

Bottomore, Stephen, ‘“Have You Seen the Gaekwar Bob?”: Filming the 1911 Delhi Durbar’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 17/3 (August 1997), 309-45.

Dodwell, Henry Herbert, Cambridge History of the British Empire (Cambridge, CUP, 1959).

Nuckolls, Charles W. ‘The Durbar Incident’, Modern Asian Studies, 24/3 (July 1990), 529-59.

‘The “Durbar” Films’, Bioscope, 14/273 (4 January 1912), 11.

Trevithick, Alan, ‘Some Structural and Sequential Aspects of the British Imperial Assemblages at Delhi: 1877-1911’, Modern Asian Studies, 24/3 (July 1990), 561-78.




Technical Data

Running Time:
15 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
1000 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
GAUMONT, Raymond
GORDON, Kenneth
Production Company
Gaumont Company