This film is part of Free

Private Life of the Gannets

The marginal lives of a breeding colony of gannets on the isolated Pembrokeshire island of Grassholm

Documentary 1934 14 mins


The lonely seclusion of an Irish Sea island is intruded upon for this pioneering account of the lives of northern gannets. The hardy seabirds are observed at different life stages: as hatching eggs, daring juveniles and nesting adults. The threat of predatory gulls terrorizes the eyrie, but the gannets are hunters too, plunging at speed from great heights into the sea for fish.

This Oscar winning model of wildlife filmmaking was made by the biologist Julian Huxley, with photography from Hollywood cinematographer Osmond Borradaile, famed for his skills in outdoor shooting. The visual style of later television nature documentary can already be seen here in nascent form. Aerial shots of Grassholm provide context, while close-ups of the birds and time-lapse and slow-motion photography manipulate time to reveal avian activities both fast and slow. Its closing call for a truce between man and nature reveals an environmentalist sentiment that resonates decades on.