The Song of Ceylon

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The Song of Ceylon is a 1934 British documentary film directed by Basil Wright and produced by John Grierson for the Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board.

The Song of Ceylon
Directed byBasil Wright
Produced byJohn Grierson (producer)
Written byRobert Knox (sailor) (commentary, excerpt from "An Historical Relation of Ceylon")
StarringSee below
Narrated byLionel Wendt
Music byWalter Leigh
CinematographyBasil Wright
John Taylor
Edited byBasil Wright
Release date
  • 1934 (1934)
Running time
38 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The film was shot on location in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the start of 1934 and completed at the GPO film studios in Blackheath, London.

Digitized versions of the film are available to watch online on YouTube and via the Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire website. See the links below. The YouTube version is low quality in comparison to the version on the Colonial Film site. A DVD version of the film is available from the British Film Institute as part of their award-winning GPO DVD series.

Plot summaryEdit

Ambitious documentary chronicling the cultural life and religious customs of the Sinhalese and the effects of advanced industrialism on such customs.

The first part of the film depicts the religious life of the Sinhalese, interlinking the Buddhist rituals with the natural beauty of Ceylon. Opening with a series of pans over palm leaves, we then gradually see people journey to Adam's Peak, a center of Buddhist pilgrimage for over two hundred years. This is continually inter-cut with images of surrounding natural beauty and a series of pans of a Buddhist statue.

Part two focuses on the working life of the Sinhalese, again continually stressing their intimate connection to the surrounding environment. We see people engaging in pottery, woodcarving and the building of houses, whilst children play.

The third part of the film introduces the arrival of modern communications systems into the fabric of this 'natural' lifestyle, heralded by experimental sounds and shots of industrial working practices.

Finally, in the last part of the film, we return to the religious life of the Sinhalese, where people dress extravagantly to perform a ritual dance. The film ends as it began, panning over palm trees.


Critical responseEdit

Writing for The Spectator in 1935, Graham Greene described the film as "an example to all directors of perfect construction and the perfect application of montage", and noted that it "moves with the air of absolute certainty in its object and assurance in its method".[1]


  1. ^ Greene, Graham (4 October 1935). "Song of Ceylon". The Spectator. (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. p. 25. ISBN 0192812866.)

External linksEdit