This film is held by the BFI (ID: 8395).


ACTUALITY. Garden party given by Lord Irwin, Viceroy of India during the Calcutta `season'.

Main title (10). The garden party guests arriving (mainly Europeans). They cross lawn in front of the house (52). The Viceroy's party passing in front of the house. The steps are lined by a guard of honour (66). Scenes of the guests at tables taking tea and attended to by servants. Guests include Lord Irwin and Lord Lytton (Governor of Bengal). Indian guests are also present. Colonel McKenzie (military secretary to the Governor of Bengal) at tea and puts on a pair of sunglasses. The childrens' table, with Davina Lytton, a young Indian prince (?), and one of Lord Irwin's sons (250-282). Anthony and Davina Lytton and Ann Wood with the Viceroy's daughter act out an introduction for the camera. Mrs McKenzie on a sofa taking tea with another woman. Pan of the garden party and the guests (373ft).



The Conservative politician Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, Lord Irwin (later Lord Halifax), held the post of Viceroy of India from 1926 to 1931. He spoke of Indian politics as being held ‘in suspense’ at the time he assumed his position (Brown, 1994, 231). Andrew Roberts has noted that ‘At the outset of Irwin’s Viceroyalty the Independence movement was a weak and demoralized affair’ (Roberts, 1992, 21). Irwin did believe that eventual Indian self-government was inevitable (Roberts, 1992, 1992), but conceded in his autobiography that ‘neither I nor anybody else could have foreseen how rapid that movement would be’ (Halifax, 1957, 112). His period in office saw great political transformations, evidenced by the rise in power of the Indian National Congress and the return of Mahatma Gandhi to national politics. It culminated with his 1929 declaration that Dominion status was the goal of British policy in India, and with the implementation of his Round Table Conferences, at which representatives from the British government, British India and the Princely states convened to discuss constitutional reforms in India.

This film was made in 1926, during the Irwins’ first stay at Belvedere, their official residence in Calcutta, Bengal. In his autobiography Irwin writes that it was customary ‘to spend two or three weeks round Christmas at Calcutta’ (Halifax, 1957, 129). This first visit, made ‘when everything was necessarily strange’, was overseen by Lord Lytton, the Governor of Bengal (Halifax, 1957, 130). During this period Bengal was not in political suspension. There was a strong nationalist movement in the state, which had witnessed outbreaks of terrorist violence, including an attempt to blow up Lytton’s train (Lytton, 1942, 6). In response, Lytton had pressed for the instatement of emergency powers, which were granted in late 1924, following which over 50 nationalist leaders were arrested (The Times, 29 October 1924, 15).

Irwin does not mention these events in his autobiography. Instead he describes Belvedere as being ‘unpretentious but comfortable’, and recalls ‘the noise of animals in the adjacent zoo’ (Halifax, 1957, 130). He also writes of the ‘the value of making contact with the European business community’ and of the ‘great pressure of political and social engagements’ (Halifax, 1957, 130). The Irwins were, in fact, inveterate hosts. Throughout their period in India there were numerous garden parties, dances, and state balls. Roberts has calculated that there were on average three dinner parties a fortnight, to which between 75 and 120 guests would be invited (Roberts, 1992, 23); by Irwin’s own reckoning, at his Delhi home there were ‘never less than twenty-five or thirty for luncheon’ (Halifax, 1957, 130).

This film was made by the Indian film company, Madan Theatres. Jamshed Framji Madan, a Calcutta theatre owner, had first introduced film projections in his venues in 1902. In the early years of the twentieth century his company grew to be India’s ‘largest production-distribution-exhibition empire’ (Garga, 2007, 13). They first ventured into filmmaking in 1919, producing feature films, industrial films, as well as ‘topicals’. These latter films were news reports, covering events such as ‘Social engagements, royal visits and arrivals and departures of the governors and viceroys’ (Garga, 2007, 40). Following J. J. Madan’s inheritance of the firm from his father in 1923, Madan Theatres rose to its greatest heights: by 1927 it had sole control of a quarter of all cinema halls in India, ten of which were in Calcutta itself (Sharma). These topical reports would have been widely seen, serving as an ‘added attraction’ to the main feature film (Garga, 2007, 40). 



Lord Irwin believed that British rule in India was dependent on Indians’ sense of awe towards the Raj; consequently he thought that ‘the whole position is essentially psychological’ (Roberts, 1992, 20). This film provides evidence of how Irwin’s formal engagements helped to encourage this sense of awe, and of how film itself helped to underpin this psychological rule.

As the film’s title suggests, Scenes at his Excellency the Viceroy’s Garden Party at Belvedereis one of Madan Theatres’ productions depicting the social engagements of British officials. Present at this party are the Irwin and Lytton families, as well Colonel McKenzie, Lord Lytton’s military secretary. There is no intimation of the troubles that Bengal was facing. The party is not, however, solely the preserve of British guests: also present are a number of Indians, whose names are unfortunately not documented.

Robin Baker argues that the event ‘feels distinctly like the awkward “bridge party” – i.e. bridging two nations – in E.M. Forster’s novel A Passage to India’ (Baker). These two nations are first seen arriving separately. A number of British guests are seen crossing the lawn in front of Belvedere, until finally a lone Indian walks into view. The second scene presents a more formal entrance, as several guests emerge from Belvedere, heading down its steps, which are lined with a guard of honour. Last to emerge is another solitary Indian guest, who slowly passes the guard.

The bulk of the film consists of scenes of the garden party itself. The tables have been arranged so that each includes both British and Indian guests. The proceedings are stiff and awkward; however, it is difficult to gauge whether this is due to the forced mingling of the two nations or whether it is reflective of any formally arranged party, in particular one at which a film crew is present. Belvedere could only be considered ‘unpretentious but comfortable’ to those accustomed to a high social life. During their period in India the Irwins had in regular employment over a thousand servants (Roberts, 1992, 23). In these scenes the main activity is provided by numerous butlers, who hurry to meet their guests’ requirements. Here too there is a meeting of two nations: both British and Indian domestic staff are in evidence, although it is the British staff who appear to be giving the orders.

Towards the end of the film the garden party breaks up a little, at which point the guests appear more relaxed. The people in the film who appear most at ease are the younger members of the party. Roberts notes that the Irwins’ children had the knack of lending their ‘court’ a ‘relaxed family atmosphere’ (Roberts, 1992, 23). Here one of Lord Irwin’s sons is seen laughing and playing with a top hat, which he motions to place over the top of a young Indian boy’s turban. There is also a scene in which Lytton’s children, who are dressed in up-to-date 1920s styles, jokingly act out an introduction for the camera. 

At the garden party there are more British than Indian guests in evidence. The British guests also appear to be the main focus of the filmmakers’ attention. In the opening scene the film cuts just as the first Indian guest crosses the Belvedere lawn. During the party there are shots of several tables, but most are arranged so that it is a British guest that is the centre of the composition. These shots are sequenced in hierarchical order: centre-frame at the first table is Irwin and centre-frame at the second table is Lytton. During the more informal scenes towards the end of the film the Indian guests are notable by their absence. The exception is the final scene, which is a panned shot, encompassing all of the guests at the party. As with the opening of the film, British and Indian guests are seen walking separately, but this time the most prominent figures are the Indian guests: several pairs of Indian men are in evidence and, separated from the British, they are now engrossed in conversation.

Richard Osborne (April 2010)


Works Cited

Baker, Robin, Scenes at his Excellency the Viceroy’s Garden Party at Belvedere (1926), Mediatheque, BFI, London.

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

The Earl of Halifax, Fulness of Days (London: Collins, 1957).

The Earl of Lytton, Pundits and Elephants: Being the Experiences of Five Years as Governor of an Indian Province (London: Peter Davies, 1942).

‘Firm Action in Bengal’, The Times, 29 October 1924, 15.

Garga, B.D., From Raj to Swaraj: The Non-fiction Film in India (New Delhi: Penguin, 2007).

Roberts, Andrew, ‘The Holy Fox’: A Life of Lord Halifax (London: Papermac, 1992).




Technical Data

Running Time:
6 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
373 ft

Production Credits

Production Company
Madan Theatres