Have yourself a very cine Christmas – the power of Frank Marshall’s family films

Only two more sleeps!   As children across the land excitedly prepare for Christmas, we unwrap some festive films in the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive.  Not only made for fun and entertainment, they also offer evidence of a thriving amateur film-making culture and an emotionally charged record of Scotland’s past.

Here are four films by well-loved amateur film-maker Frank Marshall that show the power of the ‘family film’.  They capture the exhilaration and fun of being a child participating in a ‘story’ while also quietly recording the fashions, home interiors and behaviour of a specific place and time.  The films are both private and public, fiction and non-fiction.  As Ian Goode notes “the films of Frank Marshall could occupy a joint public and private status, gaining frequent recognition at the [Scottish Amateur Film] festival as comedy fiction, whilst also serving as cherished films of record for the Marshall family.”


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Muriel Marshall writes a letter to Santa, Christmas 1937

The enjoyment different generations take from crafting these little films shines through on screen.  Christmas (1937) records the innocent excitement of Christmas Eve and morning at the Marshall family home.  Frank is the proud young Dad behind the camera, recording his son Nairn and daughter Muriel’s innocent antics.  Although a silent film, carefully placed intertitles explain what is happening in the film and add an affectionate tone.  Look closer, and it’s clear the family lived in an affluent suburb  (not many children had maid service at their Christmas party!)


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Boys play excitedly with a toy train set in Wylie Hills toy store, Glasgow

Twenty years later, he made Tree for Two (1957) featuring Muriel’s two boys creating havoc round the Christmas tree.  Likewise, Twee Bomen (1961) shows his son, Nairn and his young family indulging in some Christmas mischief.  Surprise in Store (1965) has Frank’s grandson and pals running riot in Glasgow’s Wylie Hills toy store, as Santa waits in the wings.  There are telling signs that this is a different time: popular toy brands such as Corgi, Dinky, Tri-ang and Scalextric line the shelves, the fleeting shot of a row of Gollies, the old fashioned petrol pumps on the forecourt outside.  Yet the sheer exhilaration and fun the children experience playing with the toys is exactly the same as nowadays – just take a look at the faces of these children enjoying a screening of Frank Marshall films at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse earlier this month:


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Image credit: Photograph by Jenny Leask

These films offer continuity and safety in an uncertain world and the family was a solid foundation on which to build stories.  The films record a way of life that will last forever, preserved in the vaults of the Archive.  The Scottish Amateur Film Festival even introduced a ‘family’ category in 1950 to recognise the popularity of this type of film-making.  Amateur film-making was open to a few affluent characters in the early days.  Family films have become a rich part of the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive and have proliferated.


Find out more about Frank Marshall:

Link to a short biography and list of films on the Moving Image Archive Catalogue here

Read Ryan Shand’s recent work on Frank Marshall and the ‘family film’ here

The National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive was a partner in the successful AHRC funded Children and Amateur Media in Scotland video preservation project.  Such work contextualises these films and brings them to life for a new generation.

Articles cited:  Goode, I. 2009 ‘Locating the Family Film: The Critics, The Competition and the Archive’, in I. Craven (ed.), Movies on Home Ground: Explorations in Amateur Cinema, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle, pp 193.