For decades the Queen’s private film collection has been carefully preserved by the BFI National Archive on the Royal Collection’s behalf, using the expertise and specialist skills of our archivists and controlled storage environment at the BFI’s Master Film Store to care for them. The Royal Collection of film dates from the 1920s with in excess of 1,000 individual reels of film.

A new BBC feature documentary marking the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen, which airs on 29 May on BBC One, uses rare and previously unseen footage from the Queen’s personal film collection to tell the real story of Princess Elizabeth from earliest childhood to her coronation, through her own eyes and in her own words from across her reign.

The BFI National Archive’s specialist film conservation and image quality teams collectively examined nearly 700 original film reels, to assist with the development of the BBC’s programme and subsequently 4K scanned and graded 500 selected reels, totalling 115 hours. These include 125 personal home cine movies shot by George VI, HM The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the royal household.

The digitisation process involved complex materials inspection, 4K scanning as well as the graded restoration of selected precious Royal Collection film materials. The team worked on a wide range of film formats including 8mm, 9.5mm, 16mm, 35mm, nitrate, black and white as well as different early colour systems. The physical films, carefully conserved for many decades have survived in excellent overall physical condition. The restoration project also included specialist audio digitisation of ¼-inch audio reels and 130 film sound tracks.

A recent 2021 AHRC capability for collections grant awarded to the BFI National Archive facilitated the upgrade of its film scanner, making it possible to deliver digital files at 4K for the best quality capture.

The restoration process has directly enabled the programme makers to reveal rare news reels, private films commissioned by the royal family and never before seen home movies, including Balmoral in 1946, at the time of Prince Philip’s marriage proposal to the Princess and Elizabeth’s first visit abroad, to South Africa, in the following year, is also captured in extensive unseen footage, largely shot by the Princess and her mother.

As part of #Celebrate2022 BFI have also curated a Jubilee on Film themed film collection available on BFI Player. Dating from Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 via King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935 to Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977,  jubilees have been a magnet for moving image camera since the earliest days of film. Drawn from the collections of the BFI National Archive and regional and national archives across the UK, the films have mostly been digitised with the support of the National Lottery.

Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen will be broadcast on BBC One at 7.45pm on Sunday 29 May.