A Night at the Cinema in 1914 review – haunting glimpses of a long-lost world

Charlie Chaplin in the Kid

Here's an inspired idea: a compilation from the BFI National Archive, designed to evoke a trip to your local picture palace 100 years ago.

In fact, the package is more complex than that suggests, since the selection covers the course of 1914, from peacetime to war. One of the most haunting extracts is a newsreel of the Austro-Hungarian royal family – after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand – stiffly parading their pomp as if they'd never heard the news from Sarajevo. It's one of several telling glimpses of a world soon to vanish, while at the other end of the year, footage of Christmas at the front reassures Blighty that all's still right with the world. We also see Emmeline Pankhurst and other suffragettes frogmarched by police, while American star Florence Turner offers her own feminist statement of sorts, a comedy about a woman who terrifies men with her enthusiastic gurning.

There's also a once popular clown named Pimple, whose British comedies, we're told, made a virtue of their low budgets – plus ça change. If you wonder why you've never heard of Pimple, the answer comes in A Film Johnnie, starring Charlie Chaplin, new to British screens in 1914 and already leagues ahead of the competition. Top-quality entertainment or what? Imagine going to the cinema these days to watch a comedy about gurning. Oh hang on, there's a new Inbetweeners movie out this week.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Jonathan Romney, for The Observer on Sunday 3rd August 2014 00.04 Europe/London

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