British Empire in fiction

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Main article: British Empire
Neptune Resigning to Britannia the Empire of the Sea by William Dyce, 1847.

The British Empire has often been portrayed in fiction. Originally such works described the Empire because it was a contemporary part of life; nowadays fictional references are also frequently made in a steampunk context.

Historical events[edit]

This section includes fiction that attempts to re-create historical events.

This is an incomplete list. Please add significant examples in order of date published

Prose[edit]

Films[edit]

Set in Africa[edit]

Set in Australasia[edit]

Set in Europe[edit]

Set in India[edit]

Set in the United States[edit]

Television[edit]

Period fiction[edit]

This section deals with fictional characters set within the wider backdrop of the British Empire.

This is an incomplete list. Please add significant examples in order of date published

Prose[edit]

Set in Africa[edit]

  • King Solomon's Mines (1885) introduces Alan Quatermain - a British explorer, but who displays a remarkably modern attitude to de-colonialization, and shows a great respect for the African cultures. Nevertheless he is a patriot.
  • Heart of Darkness (1899) a reflection on the savage Belgian empire compared to Britain's and the many kinds of evil perceived to be in Africa.
  • The Four Feathers (1902) by A.E.W. Mason tells the story of British officer Harry Faversham, who resigns his commission from his regiment just prior to the Battle of Omdurman, in the Sudan, in 1898. He questions his own true motives, and resolves to redeem himself in combat, travelling on his own to the Sudan.
  • Sanders of the River (1911) by Edgar Wallace, highly popular at the time, and its various sequels - The People of the River (1911), Bosambo of the River (1914), Bones of the River (1923), Sanders (1926), Again Sanders (1928) - focus on the adventures of a British governor in a fictional African colony loosely modeled on Nigeria, where British power in maintained by gunboats sailing up and down a major river. The protagonist is not gratuitously cruel, and by the standards of his time is open-minded towards the culture of the African tribes under his rule. Nevertheless, he (like the author and the general British public at the time) takes for granted the right of Britain to rule over the natives and the necessity of using brute force against any attempt at rebellion.
  • Weep Not, Child (1964) by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Set in Asia[edit]

Set in India[edit]

Set in Australasia[edit]

Set in Europe[edit]

Set in the United States[edit]

Set in various locations[edit]

  • Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) is in many ways a travelogue of the British Empire as it was at the time of writing - as symbolised by the act that the protagonists travel halfway around the world and still remain within British territory where British law runs, (and then they go to Japan which at the time of writing was under strong British influence, and from there to the United States, a country created by breakaway British colonists).
  • The Aubrey–Maturin series by Patrick O'Brianis a sequence of 20 nautical historical novels, and one unfinished, set during the Napoleonic Wars and centering on the friendship between Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and his ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin, who is also a natural philosopher and secret agent. The first novel, Master and Commander, was published in 1969 and the last finished novel in 1999. The 21st novel of the series, left unfinished at O'Brian's death in 2000, appeared in print in late 2004.
  • The Light that Failed (1890) by Rudyard Kipling. Most of the novel is set in London, but many important events throughout the story occur in Sudan or India.
  • The Flashman Series (1969 onwards) by George MacDonald Fraser shows the British Empire between 1839 and 1891 and from the eyes of the dastardly Flashman - the bully from Tom Brown's Schooldays. Many famous people from the time are mentioned usually in a bad light, or with flaws (e.g. Lord Cardigan, in Flashman and Flashman at the Charge)
  • The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough (1977) Set in various places including New Zealand at the end of 18th century.
  • The Sharpe Series (1981 onwards) A series of books which follow the career of Richard Sharpe from India, through the Napoleonic Wars and beyond.

Theatre[edit]

Audio[edit]

Films[edit]

Set in Africa[edit]

Set in Asia[edit]

Set in India[edit]
  • The Green Goddess (1923 film) and The Green Goddess (1930 film) are two films depicting a group of British citizens who crash in India and are threatened with execution by the local Raja.
  • Bonnie Scotland (1935) A comedy which sees Laurel and Hardy join a Scottish regiment and sent to India.
  • Gunga Din (1939) loosely based on the poem by Rudyard Kipling combined with elements of his novel Soldiers Three. The film is about three British sergeants and their native water bearer who fight the Thuggee, a religious cult of ritualistic stranglers in colonial India.
  • Kim (1950) An adaptation of the Kipling novel starring Errol Flynn.
  • King of the Khyber Rifles (1952) A half-caste British officer in 19th-century India battles the prejudices of both his Army colleagues and the local populace while trying to help put down a rebellion led by a greedy local ruler. Adapted from the Talbot Mundy novel.
  • Bhowani Junction (1956) is an adaptation of the novel set amidst the turbulence of the British withdrawal from India.
  • Carry On... Up the Khyber (1968) is a comedy film starring Sid James as Queen Victoria's Governor in the British India province of Khalabar near the Khyber Pass.
  • Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977) based on Munshi Premchand's short story of the same name, set in 1856 and shows the life and customs of 19th century India on the eve of the Indian rebellion of 1857.
  • Junoon (1978) chronicles the period of 1857 to 1858 when the soldiers of the East India Company mutinied and many smaller kingdoms joined the soldiers in the hope of regaining their territories from the British.
  • Kranti (1981) A film taking place in 19th century British India and is the story of the fight for independence from the British in the years spanning from 1825 to 1875. It tells the story of two men who led the war against British Rule, Sanga (Dilip Kumar) and Bharat (Manoj Kumar) both of whom call themselves Kranti.
  • A Passage to India (1984) film of the book of the same name.
  • Kim (1984) A second adaptation of the Kipling novel.
  • The Deceivers (1988) a film of the novel by John Masters on the Thuggee movement in India during British imperial rule.
  • Earth (1998) is set in Lahore before and during the partition of India.
  • Hey Ram (2000), a film set against the backdrop of the Indian Independence movement.
  • Lagaan (2001), set in late 19th century India, follows a cricket game between British officers and local Indian villagers.
  • Kisna: The Warrior Poet (2005) set during the last days of the British in India.
  • Water (2005) a film set in 1938 India and a sequel to the 1998 film "Earth".

Set in Australasia[edit]

Set in the Caribbean[edit]

Set in Europe[edit]

Set in the United States[edit]

Television[edit]

  • The Buccaneers (1956) A series about a reformed pirate in the early 18th century.
  • Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans (1957) one of several dramatizations loosely based on the Leatherstocking Tales series. Another well known adaptation is the 1971 BBC version.
  • The Swamp Fox (1959–1960) TV series produced by Walt Disney and starring Leslie Nielsen. Nielsen played the role of American Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion.
  • Daniel Boone (1964–1970) TV series loosely depicting the life of Daniel Boone.
  • The Recruiting Officer (1965 and 1973) Two adaptations of the play.
  • The Young Rebels (1970–1971) Television Series about a group of youthful guerrillas fighting on the Patriot side in the American Revolutionary War.
  • Sandokan (1976) is a loose adaptations of the novel series, with the hero a prince fighting for independence for his island from the British.
  • The Far Pavilions (1983) a three part television adaptation of the book.
  • The Jewel in the Crown (1984) is a reflection on Indian independence and the post imperial feelings in Britain when the series was produced. Based on the first book of The Raj Quartet.
  • Noble House (1988) is an adaptation of the novel set in the late 80s.
  • Sharpe (1993 onwards) Adventure TV series starring the dashing Richard Sharpe, played by Sean Bean. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the series regularly attracted high profile guest stars.
  • The American Revolution (1994), TV miniseries starring Kelsey Grammer and Charles Durning; directed by Lisa Bourgoujian.
  • Hornblower (1998 onwards) is a series of loose adaptations of the novels.
  • All the King's Men (1999) BBC dramatization of the disappearance in action of the Sandringham Company at Gallipoli in 1915.
  • Liberty's Kids (2002 onwards) A 40-part children's animated television series produced by DiC Entertainment set during the American Revolution.

Other fiction[edit]

This section also has works with fictional characters set in the Empire, but also include supernatural or fantastical elements.

This is an incomplete list. Please add significant examples in order of date published

Prose[edit]

  • The War of the Worlds (1898) by H.G. Wells is a classic novel in which Martian invaders land in the early years of the 20th century, occupy London and much of England for several months and use the inhabitants as food animals.
  • The Anubis Gates (1983) by Tim Powers shows the exploits of the empire in Egypt lead to a magical revenge plotted by Egyptian natives, but their failure to destroy the Empire leaves gates in time, which are exploited by businessmen in the twentieth century.
  • The Tales of Alvin Maker series (1987 onwards) takes place in an alternate history of the American frontier in the early 19th century, where the United States is much smaller and New England is still a colony of a republican England where the Restoration never occurred.
  • Great Work of Time (1991) by John Crowley, a secret society created by the will of Cecil Rhodes attains time travel, enabling it to prevent the two World Wars and preserve the British Empire until the end of the twentieth century - though creating difficult new problems.
  • Anno Dracula (1992) by Kim Newman takes place in a world where Count Dracula was not killed by van Helsing and has gone on to court and marry Queen Victoria, ushering in a new age of vampirism in the world.
  • Soldier of the Queen (1996) by Barbara Hambly is a spin-off from the Wells classic The War of the Worlds included in the War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches anthology. It depicts the Martian invasion of India and ends with Gandhi using the situation to gain Indian Independence nearly fifty years ahead of our timeline.
  • Dowager Empress of China (1996) by Walter Jon Williams Another story in the War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches collection. It ends with the Chinese using the same situation to successfully shake off British and other European colonial tutelage, and become a major world power already in the early 1900s.
  • In Darwinia (1998), by Robert Charles Wilson, Europe (including Britain) suddenly disappears in 1912 and is replaced by a strange land, of roughly the same shape but without humans and with very strange flora and fauna. In the resulting world, Lord Kitchener manages to hold together the British Empire despite the loss of its centre and despite revolts in Egypt and other colonies, and embarks on the re-colonization of Britain (the rebuilt London is mentioned as "a wild frontier town of several tens of thousands' population").
  • The Witches of Chiswick (2003) by Robert Rankin is a time-travelling adventure story taking place primarily in the 19th and 23rd centuries.
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy (2003, 2004, and 2005) by Jonathan Stroud is set in an alternate present in which magicians are the ruling-class of Britain and its Empire. Open rebellion at home and in the American colonies takes place in Ptolemy's Gate, the third book of the trilogy.
  • Larklight (2006) by Philip Reeve is set in a Victorian era universe, where mankind has been exploring the solar system since the time of Isaac Newton.
  • The Temeraire (series) (2006 onwards) by Naomi Novik is set during an alternate history version of the Napoleonic Wars, in which dragons not only exist but are used as a staple of aerial warfare in Asia and Europe.

Comics[edit]

Audio[edit]

  • Jubilee, a 2003 Doctor Who audio play, is set in an alternate world in which a new "English Empire" emerged after the Doctor defeated a Dalek invasion in 1903.
  • The Space 1889 audio dramas (2005 onwards) are based on the roleplaying game where Thomas Edison invented a means of traveling between planets and the major European powers have each established colonies in space.

Films[edit]

Television[edit]

  • The Time Tunnel episodes The Last Patrol (1966), The Night Of The Long Knives (1966) and Raiders From Outer Space (1967) all feature the protagonists travelling to periods involving the Empire.
  • Doctor Who story Pyramids of Mars (1975) is partially set in Egypt in 1911.
  • Sandokan (1992 and 1998) are two children’s animated versions of the novel series, with the hero a prince fighting for independence for his island from the British.
  • The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992–1993) features several episodes set in the British Empire.
  • The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne (2000) a science fiction television series depicting the revelation that Jules Verne did not merely write the stories behind his famous science fiction classic books, but actually experienced these adventures personally.

Computer games[edit]

  • Age of Empires III (2005) and its expansions feature campaigns set at various stages of British history including the Seven Years' War, American Revolution and Indian Mutiny.

Alternative histories[edit]

The alternate history section details books that examine what would have happened if history had unfolded differently. A common feature of stories written by Americans Authors is the use of a British victory in the revolutionary war.

This is an incomplete list. Please add significant examples in order of date published

Comics[edit]

  • Ministry of Space (2001) depicts a world where the British benefited from Nazi technological research instead of the US and Russia, seeing them win the space race and preserving the Empire.
  • The Code Geass anime series (see below) contain the manga books Lelouch of the Rebellion, Suzaku of the Counterattack and Nightmare of Nunnally all published in 2006.

Audio[edit]

  • The Code Geass anime series (see below) contain the radio series' The Rebellion Diary and Lots about the Rebellion broadcast in 2006.

Television[edit]

Speculative futures[edit]

There are many examples of speculative fiction were a British empire different from the historical empire is featured, but these cannot be called alternative realities, as they are not written from the point of view of a change in the past but as speculations about the future.

This is an incomplete list. Please add significant examples in order of date published

Prose[edit]

  • The Battle of Dorking (1871) by George Tomkyns Chesney established a new genre of fiction relating to the Empire - invasion literature, in which various powers attempt (or succeed) to invade Britain or the Empire. In The Battle of Dorking this is an unnamed power that happens to speak German, catches Britain off guard and leaves Dorking devastated for fifty years.
  • The Great War in England in 1897 (1894) by William Le Queux is another invasion literature novel depicting the invasion of Britain by the French with their Cossack allies, with the invading forces penetrating into London - but the British saved in the nick of time by the intervention of their staunch German allies led by the Kaiser...
  • Last and First Men (1930) by Olaf Stapledon, a vast vision of humanity's future, mentions the British Empire surviving well into the twenty-first century but becoming increasingly loose, until a cataclysmic war with the United States in which Britain (and the whole of Europe) are destroyed by poison gas. In this war Canada sides with the US; South Africa, India and Australia declare neutrality; while New Zealand remains loyal to Britain and wages a year-long hopeless resistance.
  • The Shape of Things to Come (1934) by H. G. Wells, is a future history at the time, The Second World War ends in 1950 with a stalemate and a general collapse of all warring sides. The British Empire retains a shadowy existence (an explicit comparison is made to the last years of the Roman Empire), and until the end of the 1970s sends occasional "Imperial Envoys" to what it still claims as its colonies and protectorates - but exercises little actual power, and is eventually swept away by an emerging world state.
  • The Death Guard (1939) by Philip George Chadwick, is a future war story in which a near-invincible army of artificially created soldiers - the flesh guard - falls into the hands of an untrustworthy power, continental Europe forms an alliance and invades Britain. The resulting carnage reduces whole cities and towns in Britain to smoking rubble. The story also features atomic war.

Films[edit]

  • Mutant Chronicles (2008) is a film based on the Mutant Chronicles role-playing game. Set in a distant future, where traditional nation-states of the world have merged into huge corporations. The British faction is called Imperial, and is nominally led by Her Serenity the Queen.