Antarctic Crossings – Postwar Shorts

UK 1951/56/58

Introduced by BFI curator Patrick Russell

The resumption of Antarctic exploration in the 1950s was captured in dazzling colour by some of Britain’s finest documentary filmmakers. Don’t miss a rare Technicolor print of The White Continent (1951), about the Norwegian-British-Swedish Expedition to Queen Maud Land, shot by Thomas Stobart of Conquest of Everest fame. Plus Derek Williams’ Oscar®-nominated accounts of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition: Foothold on Antarctica (1956) and Antarctic Crossing (1958).

The White Continent
An account of the co-operative Norwegian-British-Swedish Expedition to Queen Maud Land during 1949-1952, the first truly international Antarctic expedition, with the nations each sending men and sharing the cost. The film covers only the first part of the expedition, its departure from Europe in the Norwegian sealer Norsel, its encounter with heavy weather in the ‘Roaring Forties’, the transfer of cargo from the whaling factory ship Thorshovdi to the Norsel in difficult conditions, near the South Sandwich Islands, the Norsel’s voyage through iceberg-laden sea and then pack ice until it reaches its final destination. The wintering party is landed and the setting up of the base camp is shown, and the film ends with the departure of the Norsel.

This is a good, direct, continuously absorbing account of an expedition which is still in progress. The subject has been made familiar by other films, but in this case is given interest by excellent colour photography. Though it gives very few personal impressions of the men on the expedition, it is an admirable general record.
Monthly Film Bulletin, October 1951

Foothold on Antarctica
The first stage in the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition was the establishment of a base camp on the fringe of the Weddell Sea. This film, sponsored by British Petroleum as part of their contribution to the Expedition, provides an interesting record of the progress and daily routine of the journey of the Theron and her crew to Shackleton Base, which was established in January 1956. A modest, factual approach, excellent photography and an apt musical score give the film a simple eloquence that a more dramatic treatment might have lost. The Expedition’s leaders, Dr Vivian Fuchs and Sir Edmund Hillary, are seen at work and also helped with the shooting as did many other members of the crew. Despite difficult working conditions, the colour is generally effective and there are some exciting shots of the formation of ice on the surface of the Weddell Sea. The film ends with a list of those who remained behind at the base, thus creating a feeling of anticipation for an adventure which is only just beginning.
Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1956

Antarctic Crossing
This unique record of the trans-Antarctic expedition of 1955-1958 was made under appalling difficulties, and sometimes at temperatures well below zero. Skilful editing has resulted in a remarkable picture with moments of humour and despair linked by scenes of grandeur and beauty. The purpose of the expedition was to cross the Antarctic Continent from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea via the South Pole, and to carry out a complete programme of scientific research on the way. Foothold on Antarctica took the story from the departure of the advance party from London to their arrival at Shackleton Base in January 1956. Antarctic Crossing continues the story with the main party’s crossing under Sir Vivian Fuchs and the Ross Sea party’s exploration, under Sir Edmund Hillary, of the last continent uncharted by man. This modest and factual film also contains some dramatic sequences from the original films of the Scott and Shackleton expeditions, which provide startling contrast to the often impressive colour photography of the modern parties.
Monthly Film Bulletin, January 1959

Production Company: Crown Film Unit
Sponsors: Central Office of Information, Foreign Office
Commentary Written and Spoken by: Duncan Carse
Director of Photography: Thomas Stobart
Editor: John Legard
Music: Peter Racine Fricker

UK 1951
20 mins

Director: Derek Williams
Production Company: World Wide Pictures
Sponsor: British Petroleum Company
Produced by: James Carr
Commentary Written by: Derek Williams
Photography: Derek Williams
Additional Photography: George Lowe, Edmund Hillary, Dr V.E. Fuchs, J.H. Lewis
Editor: David Howes
Music Composed by: Humphrey Searle
Music Directed by: John Hollingsworth

UK 1956
21 mins

Production Company: World Wide Pictures
Sponsor: British Petroleum Company
Producer: James Carr
Associate Producer: Julian Spiro
Photography: George Lowe, Derek Wright
Editor: Dennis Gurney
Prints by: Technicolor
Music: Humphrey Searle

UK 1958
47 mins

Scott of the Antarctic
Sun 2 Jan 12:30, Mon 24 Jan 18:00
The Conquest of Everest
Mon 3 Jan 16:10, Wed 12 Jan 20:40 (+ intro by explorer Mark Wood)
The Great White Silence
Mon 3 Jan 18:20, Sun 23 Jan 12:10
Touching the Void
Wed 5 Jan 20:30, Sun 23 Jan 18:30
The Fight for the Matterhorn (Der Kampf ums Matterhorn)
Thu 6 Jan 18:00 (+ intro by BFI curator Bryony Dixon), Sun 23 Jan 15:20
The Red Tent (Krasnaya Palatka)
Tue 11 Jan 18:00 (+ intro by BFI curator Simon McCallum), Sun 30 Jan 18:00
YES & NO Salon: Exploration Now
Wed 12 Jan 18:30
Encounters at the End of the World
Sat 15 Jan 15:00, Tue 25 Jan 20:30
Talk: Silent Cinema: Intrepid Women
Sun 16 Jan 15:30
To the Ends of the Earth: The Transglobe Expedition + Q&A with Ranulph Fiennes
Tue 18 Jan 17:45
Antarctic Crossings: Postwar shorts + intro by BFI curator Patrick Russell
Tue 25 Jan 18:00
The Epic of Everest + live score by Simon Fisher Turner
Sat 29 Jan 19:00

Welcome to the home of great film and TV, with three cinemas and a studio, a world-class library, regular exhibitions and a pioneering Mediatheque with 1000s of free titles for you to explore. Browse special-edition merchandise in the BFI Shop. We’re also pleased to offer you a unique new space, the BFI Riverfront – with unrivalled riverside views of Waterloo Bridge and beyond, a delicious seasonal menu, plus a stylish balcony bar for cocktails or special events. Come and enjoy a pre-cinema dinner or a drink on the balcony as the sun goes down.

Enjoy a great package of film benefits including priority booking at BFI Southbank and BFI Festivals. Join today at

We are always open online on BFI Player where you can watch the best new, cult & classic cinema on demand. Showcasing hand-picked landmark British and independent titles, films are available to watch in three distinct ways: Subscription, Rentals & Free to view.

See something different today on

Join the BFI mailing list for regular programme updates. Not yet registered? Create a new account at

Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
Questions/comments? Contact the Programme Notes team by email