This film is held by the BFI (ID: 182382).


INTEREST. Travelogue. Scenes in Gibraltar.

Main title and credit (1). Pan right from sea of the town of Gibraltar (33). Street scenes with pedestrians and army officers with black armbands (52); further street scenes (71); military band and troops march down street (89). Pan right of harbour with small boats, steam yacht and fishing craft, and the quay (133). Market scenes; the stalls (144); market traders (152); a bric-a-brac market (161). HAS taken from the Rock of the town with harbour, a four-funnelled battleship is in harbour (168); similar views concentrating on the harbour and quayside (201ft).

Note: German intertitles.



Joseph Rosenthal’s Rosie Film Company made the film Gibraltar in 1911. Rosenthal, one of Britain’s pioneer film cameramen, established his reputation working for Warwick Trading Company and Charles Urban Trading Company at the cusp of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Stephen Bottomore has stated that he was the ‘first true professional’ involved in filming warfare, becoming noted for his live action footage of the Boer War (Bottomore, 1983, 260). Rosenthal set up the Rosie Film Company in 1908. Here he initially concerned himself with directing slapstick comedy films, but a lack of success led him to return to shooting documentary subjects (Bottomore, ‘Joseph Rosenthal’). Gibraltar was one of a number of short features filmed by Rosenthal on a ‘tour into the wilds’ and it was believed that this was the ‘first time in the world’s history’ that the territory had been filmed (BR, 20 April 11, 95; BR, 6 April 1911, 16). The film received full-page advertising in the British cinematic press (BR, 6 April 1911, 16) and the German intertitles of the copy held in the BFI indicate that it also found an audience in at least some parts of mainland Europe.

Gibraltar, located at the western entrance to the Mediterranean, was captured by the British in 1704 during the War of Spanish Succession. Although nominally claimed on behalf of the pretender to the crown, Archduke Charles, the British soon began to monopolise control of the territory. This takeover was ratifed in 1713 under the Treaties of Utrecht, whereby Spain ceded Britain ‘the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging […] for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever’ (‘The Treaties of Utrecht (1713)’). There nevertheless followed concerted military attempts by the Spanish to retake Gibraltar, notably the Great Siege of 1779-1783. Spain still asserts a claim to the territory, although the majority of the population has expressed a desire to remain under sole British rule (see Oliver, Bolton, Dennis and Tempest).

In the years leading up to the First World War Gibraltar witnessed its greatest period of military expansion. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 increased the strategic importance of the territory, now situated on the trade route between Britain and India. The construction of new dockyards began in 1894, and a 1906 reorganisation of the British Navy led to a fleet of eight battleships being stationed there (Jackson, 1987, 206). The ambitions of the German government to establish an empire in Africa prompted the British and French to enter into the Entente Cordiale of 1903, which aimed to reaffirm power in the two countries’ Mediterranean colonies. On 16 May 1907, Britain, France and Spain agreed to maintain the status quo in the Straits of Gibraltar; nevertheless, misunderstandings between the British and the Spanish continued. Most notable was a dispute over a border fence erected by the British around the rock in 1908 (Jackson, 1987, 261). However, among the local population, according to Jackson, a ‘pride in being British as well as Gibraltarian was already becoming evident’; as evidence he cites the fact that the people of Gibraltar were among the most loyal supporters of the British during the Boer War (Jackson, 1987, 261).

During the British takeover of Gibraltar the majority of the original Spanish population left the territory. In addition, the Treaties of Utrecht specified that ‘no leave shall be given under any pretence whatsoever, either to Jews or Moors, to reside or have their dwellings in the said town of Gibraltar’ (‘The Treaties of Utrecht (1713)’). Nevertheless, the town was soon inhabited by a variety of immigrants, among them British, Italians, Portuguese, Moroccans and Jews, as well as later Spanish arrivals. The Governor of Gibraltar at the time in which this film was made, General Sir Archibald Hunter, was out of step with the needs of this local community. He maintained that while he was governor, Gibraltar would be administered ‘as a fortress and not as a commercial bazaar’ (Jackson, 1987, 264). Although poverty and overcrowding existed on the island, modern municipal services had led to improved healthcare. Hunter, however, was not impressed with what he saw. He made it clear that he did not like the local population and that he considered their city to be dirty and untidy. Such attitudes led to him being recalled from his position in 1913 (Jackson, 1987, 264). 



The sub-title of this film is ‘Britain's £50,000,000 Fortress’ and it is this military fortification of the territory that provides one of its main subjects. The film is structured to give the impression that it provides a full survey of Gibraltar. It begins with a study of the town shot from across the harbour waters. A panning movement from right to left reveals the entire spread of the town and the harbour before it. The film closes with what could be considered to be reverse shots of this opening study. From a vantage point on the rock Rosenthal films the view across the town and out towards the harbour. Here a series of fairly static shots replace the earlier panning movement. They reveal military ships in the harbour, the arsenal, out-forts and bastions (BR, 20 April 1911, 95). Sandwiched in between is the detail of town life: Rosenthal films street scenes, a view of the market, and a closer study of the harbour. The latter scene is shot in amongst the boats in the choppy waters. Here a 180°panning movement aims to cover as much of the waterfront activity as possible.

Although it is the scenes shot from distant vantage points that provide the most obvious studies of the ‘fortress’ of Gibraltar, it is the street scenes that deliver a more interesting account of military intrusion into everyday life. A German intertitle merely stating ‘STRASSENSCENEN’ hints that the following segment will attempt a dispassionate view of urban activity. This is backed up by the way in which the following scenes are filmed: the camera is placed in fairly static positions; it frames as much of each street as possible and passers-by are allowed to enter and depart from the frame. Nevertheless, in two of three street scenes military activity can be witnessed. In the first scene two soldiers pass in the road and salute each other. In the third, possibly anticipated scene, a military band parades down the street, followed by marching troops.

The static camera captures the regular hustle and bustle that surrounds this military presence. The streets are teeming with people. The camera reveals the diverse and interacting demographic mix of Gibraltar, providing a contrast with the predominantly British-looking soldiers who constitute the troops. It also captures the relative poverty in which many of the people appear to have lived. Men and boys are dominant in the street scenes, and most are dressed in the flat-capped apparel of the Edwardian working class. Several of the people show an interest in the camera. Here, as is often in early film, it is not serving as an invisible eye. When the people in the street pause before it the camera does not move away; the viewer can register their interest in the camera’s interest.

The cameraman employs a different tactic for scenes shot in the market. This time there is use of panning movements. These serve two purposes. First, there is an establishing shot, in which the camera works its way from right to left disclosing the various stalls in the market. Second, there is a study of the market workers themselves. Similar to the manner in which the previous panning movement encompassed the array of stalls, here a corresponding motion from right to left captures the different types of market traders. This is an arranged scene, with the workers grouped together and the majority of them looking towards the camera. Here the actuality  has moved furthest away from its study of military Gibraltar and is instead deliberately outlining the types of people who live on the rock. Moreover, in setting up a contrast between its distant outlines of ‘fortress’ Gibraltar and the animated scenes shot among the town’s streets, Rosenthal provides evidence that the pulse of Gibraltar was to be found among its bazaars and not in its fortifications.

Richard Osborne (October 2009)


Works Cited

Bottomore, Stephen, ‘Joseph Rosenthal’,

Bottomore, Stephen, ‘The Most Glorious Profession’, Sight and Sound, 52/4 (Autumn 1983), 260-65.

‘The First of Rosie’s New Series’, Bioscope Review, 11/236 (20 April 1911), 95.

‘High-class Travel and Educational Pictures Never Before Cinematographed’, Bioscope Review, 11/234 (6 April 1911), 16.

Jackson, Sir William G. F., The Rock of the Gibraltarians: A History of Gibraltar (Grendon: Gibraltar Books, 1987).

Oliver, Mark, Sally Bolton, Jon Dennis and Matthew Tempest, ‘Gibraltar’, Guardian 4 August 2004),

‘The Treaties of Utrecht (1713)’,



  • GIBRALTAR, BRITAIN'S £50,000,000 FORTRESS (Alternative)

Technical Data

Running Time:
3 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
220 ft

Production Credits

Production Company
Rosie Film Company