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77 Posters

77 Posters

77 Posters

Until May 20, BAFTA's headquarters at 195 Piccadilly is hosting a fascinating exhibition of posters drawn from the collections of the BFI National Archive and similar organisations in Poland (including the Polish Film Institute, the National Digital Archive and the Lodz Museum of Cinematography). While most poster exhibitions focus on the art, this one has a more specific cultural purpose, since every poster was created to promote a British film, and British and Polish posters are displayed side by side to highlight their often sharply different approaches.

But why were so many British films screened in Poland in the first place? Stills Curator Nigel Arthur explains:

"Soon after the war Britain suffered a balance of payments crisis and slammed a 75% tax on American film imports. The USA responded with a boycott of British films. Film moguls Alexander Korda and J. Arthur Rank used this dip in the film market to produce more films and exported them throughout Europe. In the spring of 1947, Rank signed a film treaty with the Polish authorities and exported 30 films. Poland, whose cinemas had been closed to the country's own citizens under Nazi occupation, was hungry for entertainment, and this opened a window of opportunity for both sides.

"Equally important were the posters that depicted these films. As the artist Andrzej Klimowski put it, "They gave Warsaw and other cities a brightness in an otherwise grey, lunar landscape". They appeared in every aspect of Polish cultural life, pasted to walls, fences and poster tubes. Whether the posters actually got people into the cinema to see Black Narcissus, Odd Man Out or A Matter of Life and Death is debatable, but their bold and colourful designs were very striking.

"The two leading figures of Polish poster design, Henryk Tomaszewski and Jozef Mroszczak, advocated one objective above all: to design posters differently from the west. Examples of their bold graphic style and strong use of colour can be found in Mroszczak's poster for The Private Life of Henry VIII. The vibrant colours frame Henry holding a baby, his cherished heir to the English throne. Equally striking is Tomaszewski's painterly depiction of another lone character: Johnny McQueen in Odd Man Out. The poster depicts a wounded James Mason in side profile against a red background - perhaps a reference to the Crucifixion and a reminder of the pain and suffering of conflict.

"Both these posters form part of a substantial collection held by the BFI National Archive, one of the finest collections of Polish posters for British films held in public archives or museums in the world. Research into the collection began almost two years ago by the BFI and the Twarda Sztuka Foundation. The project started by identifying the posters, year of production and Polish release, their artists, and their size. Then, the posters were digitised in a special studio created by the BFI's Senior Curator (Related Collections) Mike Caldwell. A limited edition hand-crafted book is available at

Last Updated: 29 Apr 2010