This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: GOV 29).


The people of Malaya celebrate the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2 June 1953.

The film opens with shots of fireworks and evening celebrations, showing signs reading ‘Long Live Our Queen’ and ‘God Bless our Queen’. The British voiceover introduces 2 June 1953 as a day on which the people of Malaya ‘rejoiced and were glad’, but first shows celebratory scenes from the eve of Coronation Day; ‘Never has there been such widespread enjoyment and never have the people’s feelings been expressed so spontaneously and so generously’. On Coronation Day Sir Donald MacGillivray inspects a parade of servicemen and Police in Kuala Lumpur, and reads the loyal address, which is then translated by the member for Home Affairs. The film now cuts to the jungle. The commentator explains that ‘the sight of troops on the march served to remind the crowds that security forces were still carrying on the fight in the jungle. Knowing that the bandits take no holidays, they still went on operations but they did manage to take a short break to drink a toast to the newly crowned Queen’. At this point the men lay out a commemorative rug (emblazoned with the Queen’s head) and open bottles of drink, as members of the security forces toast the Queen. The film next shows the special services ‘remembering the religious significance’ of the coronation and, as throughout the film, highlights the different races involved. Further scenes of pageantry follow, displaying a mix of British traditions (for example floats with Queen look-a-likes) and local customs. The commentator states that those unable to see the celebrations ‘were not forgotten’, as British women visit children in hospital, while free meals are offered to the ‘old and the poor’. Further evening celebrations follow, showing bonfires and Police parades. The constant camera movement, fast editing and local crowd noises all serve to illustrate the excitement of the occasion. General Templer, High Commissioner of Malaya, returns from London and awards the insignia of ‘Honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire’ to Dato Onn, one of 70 Malayans to receive the award. The celebrations continue, with further floats. The commentator concludes that ‘the coronation will long be remembered for the delights and pleasures it brought to Malaya and for the astonishing unity of feeling which it demonstrated to the world and our Queen’.


Synopsis by Dr Tom Rice - AHRC Colonial Film Catalogue, Feb 2010



An article in The Straits Times in May 1953 outlined the Malayan Film Unit’s plans for the coronation. ‘The Malayan Film Unit will give the celebrations the greatest newsreel coverage ever known in this country’, it stated, ‘seven mobile camera teams will tour Malaya, filming celebrations in towns and kampongs for a Coronation cinema newsreel’. Tom Hodge, the head of the MFU, offered further details. ‘In her last Christmas broadcast, the Queen asked her subjects to pray for her’, he began, ‘so we plan to show Muslim and Catholic congregations at prayer in Malaya. A camera team will go deep into the jungle to show Malay, Chinese, Indian and European members of the security forces toasting the health of Her Majesty’. Hodge sought, in particular, to represent a united, multiracial Malaya: ‘There will be shots of the Fijians and East Africans to show this is a common fight shared by many nationalities’ (Straits Times, 21 May 1953, 5).

The article further explained that ‘the 30 minute newsreel will be shown throughout Malaya and South East Asia within two weeks of the Coronation. It will be sent to newsreel companies abroad and will reach a world audience exceeding 100 million people’. The article also noted that footage of the Malayan celebrations would be sent to London, where BBC producers were constructing a Coronation film showing the celebrations in 55 countries (Straits Times, 21 May 1953, 5).

The Straits Times, which had recently described the MFU productions as ‘a dull dribble of official blurb’, was full of praise for the MFU’s coverage of the Coronation when it played in Singapore in June. ‘It is an excellent piece of filmmaking – good continuity and commentary, sharp close-ups and interesting subjects’, it noted, ‘there are elephants and clowns, dragons and dancers all linked into one great Coronation parade, and the cheers of the crowd and the crash of the cymbals have been faithfully recorded’ (Straits Times, 21 June 1953, 13). Further coverage was filmed by the Shaw Brothers, who released ‘Singapore’s Coronation Celebrations’, while British productions, such as Pathé’s Elizabeth is Queen and the Technicolor film, A Queen is Crowned, played extensively throughout the region. James Chapman noted that A Queen is Crowned was the year’s most successful film at the British box office and ‘a popular attraction throughout the British Commonwealth’ (Chapman, 2002, 82).

Cultural historian Wendy Webster outlined the prominent role the Empire played within popular discourses surrounding the Coronation, and suggested that the occasion marked a re-imagining of the Empire as a ‘multiracial community – now routinely named Commonwealth…Embellished and popularised through new heroes, the Coronation story of Empire/Commonwealth was one of youth, optimism and unity’. In her Christmas address in 1953, the Queen spoke of a new Commonwealth that ‘bears no resemblance to the Empires of the past’. ‘The United Kingdom is an equal partner with many other proud and independent nations’, she continued, ‘and is leading forward yet other still backward nations to the same goal’. The Coronation provided an opportunity to reaffirm Britain’s faltering position as a world power, through the traditional imagery and pageantry of the Royal family, yet in its attempt to maintain Britain’s position as an international force, Britain was increasingly reconfigured not as a dominant imperial power, but as a partner within this ‘re-imagined’ Empire (Webster, 2005, 92, 93).

Webster also notes the presence of Malaya within this united imperial identity, observing that ‘even on-going colonial wars did little to disrupt the idea of loyalty and unity’ (Webster, 2005, 103). Coronation Week, which ran from 30 May, was promoted as an opportunity for Malayans to demonstrate their ‘unaffected enthusiasm’ for the Empire, with The Straits Times exclaiming that ‘officialdom has been dazed with the enthusiasm and spontaneity of the celebrations’ as the illuminations ‘blazoned forth Singapore’s pledge of loyalty to her Queen from a million people of all communities’ (Straits Times, 8 June 1953, 7). However, despite the colonial government’s widely disseminated Coronation propaganda (including 90,000 pictures of the Queen), there was noticeable opposition to the Coronation celebrations within Malaya (Harper, 1998, 199). As an example, Inche Abdul Aziz, who was one of three Malay journalists invited by the Colonial Office to witness the Coronation in London and a member of the Federal Legislative Council, wrote a largely critical account of the ceremony for Utusan Malayu, the most prominent Malay language newspaper. Aziz noted that Nehru looked ‘bored’, that Churchill sat down when he should have been standing and noted in another piece that some of the Malay Sultans attending the Coronation feast had not observed the Muslim fast. On his return General Templer summoned Aziz and called him ‘a rat, and a rotten journalist whose name stinks in South-East Asia’ (Purcell, 1954, 238). 



Malaya Celebrates promotes an image of a multiracial community united through its support for the British Empire. It illustrates the continuing importance of the Royal image in legitimising imperial control and authority overseas, and endorses the continued centrality of the Empire through this royal imagery. The image of the Queen – representing both continuing traditions and a modern imperial identity – serves as a unifying symbol of the Empire (both the banners and commentary refer repeatedly to ‘our’ Queen). The film’s form captures the excitement of the occasion through fast editing, rapid camera movement, close-ups, local sounds and repeated crowd shots. Likewise, the commentary constantly reiterates the unqualified popular support for the celebrations (and thus the Empire): ‘Never has there been such widespread enjoyment and never have the people’s feelings been expressed so spontaneously and so generously’. 

As Tom Hodge indicated in planning the production, Malaya Celebrates illustrates the different religious ceremonies held freely within the country, and while there is only one brief mention of the Emergency, this single scene presents this message of a multiracial united Malaya within the context of the ongoing troubles. The scene, unintentionally amusing to modern audiences, depicts the security forces deep within the jungle as they stop their work and toast the new Queen (having laid out a commemorative rug emblazoned with the Queen’s face). The scene neatly encapsulates an imperialist ideal, showing a multi-racial country (represented by British, Malay, Chinese and Indian forces) united through the image of the Queen, while also illustrating the ‘civilised’ nature of the security forces (paying due respect and drinking together). Further scenes highlight the welfare work of the British (‘the old and poor were not forgotten either and free meals were given to many’) and emphasise the confluence of British and local traditions within the celebrations. As a celebration of the Empire, highlighting the popular support both to domestic and overseas audiences (the film was produced in four languages – English, Malay, Mandarin, Tamil), Malaya Celebrates offers a fervent, uncritical, endorsement of the British Empire during a period of sustained anti-imperial unrest.

Tom Rice (February 2010)


Works Cited

Chapman, James, ‘Cinema, Monarchy and the Making of Heritage: A Queen is Crowned (1953)’, British Historical Cinema: the History, Heritage and Costume Film, edited by Claire Monk and Amy Sargeant (London: Routledge, 2002), 82-91.

Harper, T.N. The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

Purcell, Victor, Malaya: Communist or Free? (London: Victor Gollancz, 1954).

‘200 Million will See how Malaya Celebrates’, The Straits Times, 21 May 1953, 5.

‘Surprise from the MFU’, The Straits Times, 21 June 1953, 13.

‘Seven Great Days that will Never be Forgotten’, The Straits Times, 8 June 1953, 7.

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




Technical Data

Running Time:
22 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
800ft (ca)

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Federation of Malaya
Production company
Malayan Film Unit





Production Organisations