The spectacle of realism: special effects at Ealing Studios, 1940-45

Keith M. Johnston, Carolyn Rickards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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This article presents a revisionist account of Ealing Studios’ production practices by focusing on the role that special effects techniques played in the creation of the studio’s documentary-realist filmmaking aesthetic. Ealing is traditionally described as finding its wartime purpose by combining documentary-realist and mainstream film narrative techniques, a style claimed to echo through British cinema in decades to come. Yet at the heart of the studio’s ‘realistic’ wartime narratives such as San Demetrio, London (1943) and The Bells Go Down (1943) lies a complex set of ‘special effects’ techniques – understood here as an umbrella term that covers miniatures, matte paintings and back projection. A challenge to existing understanding of special effects, which are claimed to foreground generic enjoyment and visual spectacle, the article explores a series of case studies where realism and authenticity becomes the purported aim of such illusionistic activity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261–279
Number of pages19
Issue number2
Early online date19 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • British cinema
  • special effects
  • Ealing
  • realism

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