This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: COI 151).


A tribute to the "new Empire of the British Commonwealth of Nations" and more specifically to King George VI.

The King is "a symbol of unity" who links the Empire in "geography, history and destiny" and also an embodiment of "a true conception of monarchy, for the King serves as he rules his people". Visually, the film exists primarily to illustrate the commentary with material suitably indicative of solidarity and excellence, including where possible film of an appropriate royal visit. The commentary explores in turn each of the Imperial 'link' themes suggested by above: geography ("the British Empire, based on ideas of strength in unity, not force or even self interest, has one goal: freedom for every living individual" etc): history, in terms of both tradition and the present and recent past of the war ("The King stands more for the present than the past, and as much for the future as for the present"); and destiny ("the soldiers of today are the citizens of tomorrow" and have a "great hope and a great purpose").


Remarks: pretty dreadful - the quotations in the synopsis convey the quality, if not the quantity, of the commentary.



The King and His People was one of a number of films produced for the Ministry of Information – Wendy Webster mentions also The Empire Marches and From the Four Corners – that sought to promote unity and loyalty within a modern British Empire (Webster, 2005, 326). This unity is presented here through the image of the King, who was, in all media, widely adopted as a unifying symbol of the Empire.

The monarchy had traditionally served as a device to unify the colonies and dominions and to incite loyalty. Arthur Balfour, British Prime Minister from 1902-1905, had asserted that ‘The King… is the greatest constitutional bond uniting together in a single Empire communities of free men, separated by half the circumference of the globe’ (Ward, 2004, 14). This rhetoric – defining and positioning the Empire around the image of the King – continued during the War. For example, General Smuts, the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, spoke at the Guildhall in October 1943 and declared that ‘as the city, so stands the Nation, united as never before in loyal devotion round the King and Queen, who in this crisis of fate are not only the centre of national unity, but also noble exemplars of devotion to public duty, exemplars of the spirit of service and sacrifice to the whole nation, the Empire and the Commonwealth’ (The Times, 20 October 1943, 8).

King George’s position as the unifying force within the Empire was forged, in part, by his widespread travel throughout the Empire. He had begun an Empire and Commonwealth tour in 1939 – with trips to Canada and America – when war forced a postponement until 1947. Ashley Jackson suggested that the King ‘had gained a mass of global experience from tours and military service that equipped him well for his role as a war-time monarch’ (Jackson, 2006, 57). Yet, it is important to note the image of the King that was cultivated by the media during the War. Hilary Sapire, writing of the Royal Tour of South Africa in 1947, noted ‘the images associated with the Royal Family – particularly those of domesticity and “ordinariness” of a monarchy that was intimate, informal, at ease with ordinary people which was so conscientiously cultivated by the media in the years after the abdication of Edward VII’ (Sapire, 2008). Rosalind Brunt illustrated how newsreel coverage of the monarchy during the War fostered a familial image of the Monarchy, while Paul Ward highlighted how the Royal Family ‘established itself once more as head of the national family’ during the War (Brunt, 1996; Ward, 2004, 22). Wendy Webster noted how this image was cultivated and extended throughout the Empire through the King’s Christmas radio broadcasts. ‘The idea of the King speaking from his home and of the Royal Family gathered round the hearth at Christmas became an analogy’, wrote Webster, ‘to what the King referred to as “one great family” in 1941, “the family circle” in 1942, and “the family of the British Commonwealth and Empire” in 1943’ (Webster, 2005, 25). This notion of a larger imperial family, headed by the King and Queen, is evident in earlier productions such as the Empire Marketing Board film, One Family (1930).

The King and His People contains footage from existing Movietone newsreels – for example the shots of imperial airmen appear in Their Majesties Meet Empire Airmen from October 1941 – while footage of the Masai tribes donating cattle featured in War Came to Kenya (1941). The film was made exclusively for Britain’s colonies and was not shown in Britain. 



The King and His People opens with a shot of the King in his military uniform looking towards the camera, before showing one of many shots of the King and Queen amidst crowds of people. Over these images, the commentator attempts to define the role of the King – ‘to be a King; to rule and yet to serve. That is a true conception of monarchy’ – initially positioning him as a military leader. The King is aligned with the efforts of those fighting for the Empire – when discussing the Navy, the commentator explains that ‘King George was trained as a sailor and once a sailor always a sailor’ – but he is also aligned, through the repeated crowd scenes, with the experiences of the many civilians within the Empire. This is most clearly shown when the King and Queen visit bomb sites. The commentator states that the King stayed in London when under attack ­– ‘his home was struck like so many others’ – emphasising the shared experiences of the King and his people. 

The film constantly reiterates the King’s role as a unifying imperial force. ‘He is the symbol of unity’, the commentator notes, ‘the link between all these scattered people when they entered the War’. He serves to unite people not only over distance, but also over time. Over shots of the King’s coronation ceremony, the commentator states that ‘traditions are important’, and so presents the King, and the monarchy, as an unwavering constant. Rosalind Brunt argued that ‘it is particularly at moments of national crisis that the destinies of both monarchy and Britain are linked together to guarantee a reassuring continuity’ (Brunt, 1992, 291). The King thus also represents the ‘future beyond the war’, as the film uses the idealised image of the King – ‘a living symbol of all that we believe’ – to illustrate the continuation of the Empire beyond the War. The film does recognise that the Empire must change and regenerate, but again the King and Queen are identified with ‘the aspirations of the new Empire of the future’.

As a film intended for overseas distribution, the film promotes the role of the dominions within this new Empire: ‘the soldiers of today… will mould and fashion the Empire which they have upheld and preserved’. It also constantly reiterates the ‘voluntary’ involvement of the dominions within the War. The commentator states that ‘the dominions, free self-governing nations simultaneously announced their entry into the struggle’, ‘rallied of their own free will’ and ‘these dominions, with complete freedom of choice had in peacetime chosen to remain associated with the mother country under the same King’. This ‘freedom’ contrasts with an enemy, which ‘would submit her peoples to slavery and obedience under the new order’. Furthermore, the film appears to directly address these dominions and colonies in providing reasons for continued loyalty. For example, the commentator states that The King’s African Rifles and the Nigerian and Gold Coast Regiments have ‘won fame and glory’ through their military exploits. He also states that ‘India has the promise of complete independence as soon as her safety is assured by peace’, and restates that ‘that promise will be kept’.

Tom Rice (July 2008)


Works Cited

Brunt, Rosalind, ‘The Family Firm Restored: Newsreel Coverage of the British Monarchy 1936-1945’, C. Gledhill and G. Swanson (eds.), Nationalising Femininity: Culture, Sexuality and British Cinema in the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996), 140-151.

Brunt, Rosalind, ‘A “Divine Gift to Inspire”?: Popular Cultural Representation, Nationhood and the British Monarchy’, Dominic Strinati and Stephen Wagg (eds.), Come on Down?: Popular Media Culture in Post-War Britain(London: Routledge, 1992).

Jackson, Ashley, The British Empire and the Second World War (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2006).

Sapire, Hilary, ‘A “Sign Prophetic”: African Loyalism and the Royal Tour of Southern Africa in 1947’, Provisional Draft (2008).

Thorp, Frances, Nicholas Pronay, Clive Coultass, British Official Films in the Second World War: A Descriptive Catalogue (Oxford: Clio Press, 1980).

‘Empire’s Part in the War’, The Times, 20 October 1943, 8.

Ward, Paul, Britishness Since 1870 (London: Routledge, 2004).

Webster, Wendy, ‘The Empire Answers: Imperial Identity on Radio and Film, 1939-1945’, Rediscovering the British World, edited by Phillip Buckner and R. Douglas Francis (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2005), 321-340.

Webster, Wendy, Englishness and Empire 1939 – 1965 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).




Technical Data

Running Time:
10 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
949 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Ministry of Information
Mitchell, Leslie
film editor
Perrin, Raymond
Production company
British Movietone News
Sanger, Gerald