The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation

D W Griffith (1915)

192min
U Certificate
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Review

Our Score
This colossal, majestic Civil War epic from pioneer director DW Griffith is one of the most successful films of all time, though it was released long before proper cinema book-keeping. In terms of film history, the film was ground-breaking: a long and epic narrative telling a complex tale interweaving two families' fortunes, with dramatic reconstructions of key events including the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, not to mention accurate (and costly) re-creations of Civil War battlefields. But - and it's a very big "but" - the source material (by southerner Thomas Dixon Jr) is fervently and distressingly racist, and Griffith remains true to his source. It's hard to applaud a film where the Ku Klux Klan rides triumphantly to the rescue, and this, alas, undoes all the sterling work put in earlier and the wonderful performances from Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Henry B Walthall and especially Robert Harron. Griffith tried to make amends with Intolerance, but the damage was done.

Summary

Two brothers, Phil and Ted Stoneman, visit their friends in Piedmont, South Carolina: the family Cameron. This friendship is affected by the Civil War, as the Stonemans and the Camerons must join up opposite armies. The consequences of the War in their lives are shown in connection to major historical events.

Cast & Crew

Elsie Stoneman Lillian Gish
Flora Cameron Mae Marsh
Ben Cameron Henry B Walthall
Margaret Cameron Miriam Cooper
Lydia Brown Mary Alden
Hon Austin Stoneman Ralph Lewis
Silas Lynch George Siegmann
Gus Walter Long
Ted Stoneman Robert Harron
Jeff the blacksmith Wallace Reid
Klansman John Ford
Director D W Griffith
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Other Information

Black and whiteTheatrical distributor: Western Import Co LtdAvailable on: video, DVD and Blu-ray