Victoria, Wilhelm, Dreyfus and Kruger
Just as in the countries bordering the Netherlands, the Dutch monarchy played a major role in the popularisation of film as a new medium. In Great Britain, the film of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (1897) drew enormous public interest, and a veritable cult of personality arose in Germany around Emperor Wilhelm II. He was by far the most often-portrayed personality on film and very quickly grasped that he could use the medium to increase his popularity among his subjects.
First Dutch star
In the Netherlands, the young Queen Wilhelmina was the first national film star. The films of her coronation as queen of the Netherlands were extremely popular and contributed in an important way to the growth of the medium – for the first time, film had found a subject that was capable of capturing the attention of the masses. The popularity of these films about kings, emperors and other dignitaries is clear from many of them were made: out of the 600 films listed in the Mutoscope Company catalogue, no fewer than 100 of these were devoted to them.
World events attract audiences
After film’s breakthrough in the Netherlands with the coronation films, there were a number of other subjects that captivated audiences. First there was the news about the young queen: her engagement, her wedding and the official yearly visitations to the nation’s capital and other cities. Besides this, there were two world events that gripped the public in 1899: the trial of the alleged French traitor Alfred Dreyfus, and the Second Boer War in South Africa. Both events were followed anxiously and with great interest, and recordings from France and South Africa were enthusiastically received. Dutch audiences always chose the side of the courageous Boer in the battle against the English.
The events in South Africa around 1900 would continue as the Boer leader Paul Kruger travelled to the Netherlands via Marseille. He would stay for two years in the Netherlands and received visits from his generals De Wet, Botha and De la Reij, among others. Films were made of Kruger as well as the visitations from his generals.
Besides these figures, there were naturally other big stars of early film: the many anonymous residents of cities and villages who shone in the numerous local films.