This film is held by the BFI (ID: 599724).


Personal film of Lord Willingdon, Viceroy of India from the early to mid-1930s.

Brief shot of moving steam train. Indian Maharajah in finery, horses led by servants with plumed headdresses. Indians in uniform followed by European officials in topees. One man is older (the Viceroy?) (24). The Viceroy inspects Indian troops. He leaves in a carriage with horse guards. Indian serviceman driving small cart. Pukka European woman cutting pineapple. View of fountain garden to hills beyond (60). Indian children by riverside. European men get into a boat. Viceroy and a lady come out of train and greet officials. Viceroy inspects more troops. Viceroy at station with servants and officials (100ft). European crowds at race course. Shot of betting board. Viceroy and his wife driven around the course in a horse and carriage. They dismount at the grandstand. Horses and riders come out of the enclosure. The race. Presentation of trophy. Viceroy and his wife get into carriage (149). Barog railway station. VIPs get on train; shots from moving train (165). Shot of train (`Esplanade via Alipore'). Buses - 4A Kalighat Baghbazaar and No, 5 Kalishat-Howrah St. Ext. department store (?) `Hall and Anderson Ltd'. Traffic policemen directing traffic (193). Zoo - elephants, ostrich, hippos (248). European men playing tennis doubles (262). Viceroy and his wife greteing guests and friends at the tennis match' leaving the group (281). 4 European children skipping in a ring around a post (288ft). [16mm]



Lord Willingdon’s period as Viceroy of India, lasting from 1931 to 1936, is commonly viewed in contrast to that of his predecessor, Lord Irwin. Irwin had aimed to accommodate Indian political demands. His famous declaration of 1929 promised Dominion status for India, and he held a series of Round Table Conferences to discuss the sub-continent’s future constitution. His gestures were nevertheless rejected by the Indian National Congress (INC), the leading Indian political party. Guided by Mahatma Gandhi, the INC instead launched a campaign of civil disobedience, which lasted from 1930 to 1934. In March 1931 Gandhi and Irwin forged an agreement: Congress agreed to attend the next Round Table Conference and to halt their campaign; the Government meanwhile agreed to withdraw the various Ordinances put in place to suppress the campaign, as well as to free imprisoned INC members.

Willingdon entered his period of office by increasing the number of Ordinances. Gandhi, who returned to a policy of non-co-operation in response to these measures, was imprisoned. This harsher climate was prompted by Gandhi’s lack of commitment during the Round Table negotiations and by continued disturbances in India, exacerbated by the effects of economic depression. On the eve of Gandhi’s arrest the Government issued a statement, arguing that ‘It is particularly incumbent upon them at the present juncture to oppose with their full power a movement which would make constitutional advance impossible. It is their duty to hand over the new order a working administration, and to this end to resist, with all their might, forces which would create a state of anarchy and chaos’ (Trench, 1934, 203).

The renewed civil disobedience campaign did not last long. It was thwarted, in part due to a lack of coherence, and in part due to the success of Willingdon’s repressive measures. The Viceroy’s partisan biographer, Victor Trench, claims that ‘Within nine months of the struggle Government credit had risen so high that all the provincial heads, district and divisional officers and the Viceroy himself could evoke the most rousing receptions in their extensive tours for consolidating goodwill and co-operating force of the country’ (Trench, 1934, 213-14). Willingdon had nevertheless received death threats during the campaign. Additionally, Judith Brown asserts that ‘Sympathy for the rajamong potential Indian collaborators in consultation ebbed as a result of government’s repressive measures against Congress and its incarceration of the Mahatma’ (Brown, 1994, 283).

More fundamentally, Willingdon’s policies could not halt the advance of nationalist politics in India. The Viceroy recognised this, and argued for a larger Indian presence in his Executive Council (Brown, 1994, 285). Coming at the close of Willingdon’s period in office, the 1935 Government of India Act enshrined Irwin’s promise of Dominion status for India. Despite unfulfilled demands for complete independence, the INC participated in the 1937 elections. It could be considered a success of Willingdon’s period in office that the party was now committed to achieving its ends through parliamentary channels.

Willingdon had long experience in the sub-continent. Prior to being Viceroy he had served as Governor of both Bombay and Madras (on both occasions clashing with Gandhi). Among his achievements were the commissioning of the Lloyd’s Barrage across the mouth of the Indus River; the establishment of the Willingdon airport in Delhi (now the Safdarjung Airport); and the creation of the multi-racial Willingdon Sports Club in Bombay, formed after he had been denied entry to the Royal Bombay Yacht Club when accompanied by Indian friends. Trench claims that the Viceroy was directly in touch with leading citizens of India and that it was his wish that ‘formal ceremonies were cut down to the minimum’ (1934, 214)

The home movies that comprise Lord Willingdon in India were shot between 1930 and 1935, roughly coinciding with Willingdon’s term as Viceroy. The dates of each segment of footage are not easy to identify, not least because the scenes do not depict what are now considered to be the major events of Willingdon’s period in office.



This film’s value lies in the glimpses it provides of Lord Willingdon’s daily life. It sheds light on his formal duties, excursions, and reveals a surprising aptitude for fun. The film also unwittingly discloses something of his relationship with Indians of different classes.

The Viceroy’s recreational pleasures are primarily European. Willingdon was a favourite tennis partner of King George V, and in the film he can be seen mingling with the British players at a tennis club (who receive the assistance of Indian ball-boys). There are several scenes of English-styled gardens, and there is also footage of Calcutta’s zoological gardens, where the exotic animals of the Empire are housed in formal surroundings. It is the whimsical elements of this film that are least expected. There are humorous interludes, including shots of an Indian riding a carriage pulled by a small deer, a staged scene in which an Indian gent hams it up in a country garden, and the conclusion, which features European children whirling ever faster around a wooden post.

These scenes provide a contrast with the formal duties of the Viceroy, activities that Trench claimed were kept to a minimum. The film commences with a procession of dignitaries, both British and Indian. This is followed by scenes of an inspection of Indian troops; an outing in Willingdon’s elegant horse-drawn carriage; and a later scene in which Willingdon’s entourage parades around the course of a racetrack. Elsewhere there are scenes of his party boarding and disembarking from trains. Each time there is much hand-shaking as the Viceroy divides his time between prominent locals, be they formally dressed British or splendidly attired Indian princes. A third party, who is largely concerned with keeping the focus upon Lord Willingdon, films these scenes. In most of the shots Willingdon is kept in the centre of the frame and the camera often pans to follow his movements. However, these sequences are always shot from a solitary camera and this is commonly positioned to film long shots, thus much of the surrounding activity of officialdom is captured in the frame.

Travel forms a major subject of the film. Willingdon can be seen journeying by carriage, boat and train, and there are street scenes in which the focus is on the movement of buses, carts and cars. Most interesting is the footage shot from vehicles in motion. Alex Davidson describes these scenes filmed by members of Willingdon’s party as ‘exhilarating’ (Davidson), and there is certainly a greater sense of excitement in this footage of India rushing by than there is in the third-party recordings of the Viceroy’s official duties. In addition, it is largely in these segments of film that we get to see ‘ordinary’ Indians. The Viceroy’s films capture them at work and at play, but always from the distance of a moving car or train. A similar sense of separation is conveyed in one of the scenes of Willingdon’s carriage processions. In this example the camera is not panned to follow the movement of the carriage. Local Indians can be witnessed, but only once the party has moved off and exited the frame.

Richard Osborne (October 2009)


Works Cited

Brown, Judith M., Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy, 2nd edn (Oxford: OUP, 1994).

Davidson, Alex, Lord Willingdon in India, Mediatheque, BFI, London.

Trench, Victor, Lord Willingdon in India (Bombay: Samuel A. Ezekiel, 1934).




Technical Data

Running Time:
12 minutes
287 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain