World Premiere

World Premiere of We Were Kings at the British Library

Whicker’s World Foundation, The British Library, Open City Documentary Festival and Grammar Productions announce the world premiere screening of We Were Kings, the rediscovery of Burma’s lost royal family on 9th September 2017 at The British Library.

Presented by Open City Documentary Festival, an annual event  running from 5th – 10th September 2017 that creates an open space in London to nurture and champion the art of creative documentary and non-fiction filmmakers, providing a platform for emerging talent as well as established names working within the documentary genre.

The documentary will premiere on Saturday 9th September 2017, 19:00 – 21:00 at The British Library

In June 2016 Manchester-born Alex Bescoby, alongside Max Jones, won the first £80,000 Funding Award for We Were Kings, the story of Burma’s Lost Royals. The primary focus of the Whicker’s World Foundation, launched in June 2015 at Sheffield Doc/Fest to give a much needed fillip to authored documentary storytelling in the UK.  Bescoby’s story centres around a forgotten monarchy and an intriguing quest that threatens to tear a family apart.

Director Alex Bescoby from Grammar Productions said: “We’re thrilled to be holding the world premiere of We Were Kings with the British Library and Open City Docs. It’s a history geek’s ultimate dream to be showing our film in the heart of a national treasure, surrounded by the weight of world history – including never before seen gems of the shared history of Britain and Burma. And to be sharing the moment with Burma’s royal family, well that’s history in the making!”

101 years ago, the Last King of Burma died in exile in India, 3,000 miles from home. Broken and forgotten, he would never see his ancestral seat of Mandalay again. His memory would be almost wiped from history, following a concerted campaign by the new British overlords of Burma to keep him from undermining their rule.

Last December, to mark the 100th anniversary of his death, the surviving members of his family – including the heir to Burma’s Lion throne, U Soe Win  – made a historic return to India. After years in hiding, Burma’s King-in-waiting – emboldened by the long-awaited arrival of democracy and greater freedom in his country – led a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to King Thibaw’s final resting place in Ratnagiri, a remote fishing town on the West coast of India.

The pilgrimage united his scattered royal family, the most revered Buddhist monks from Burma (now Myanmar), India and Thailand, and senior government ministers from India and Burma (including Burma’s newly appointed Vice President), culminating in an emotional and moving tribute to his great-grandfather King Thibaw, Burma’s last Lord of the Rising Sun.


Director Alex Bescoby (right) in conversation with Filmmaker and Funding Award judge Mak CK (left)

Since 1885 and the annexation of Burma by the British, no Burmese Royal has ever set foot in the UK. This world premiere forges new links and understanding between the two nations with the arrival of U Soe Win, great grandson of the last king.  He will take to the stage to tell BBC world affairs reporter Mike Thomson about their lives and why, after decades of fearful obscurity, they were prepared to talk to first-time filmmakers Alex Bescoby and Max Jones, winner of Whicker’s World Foundation’s inaugural £80k funding prize.

As well as speaking at the premiere, U Soe Win will visit some royal locations, recreating the last royal visit hosted by Queen Victoria and is hoping to trace the supposedly ‘cursed’ Nga Mauk ruby, rumoured to be in the British crown jewels. It once belonged to his royal ancestor:

The  world premiere will involve the vibrant Burmese British community and will be running a short film in the foyer about the making of the music track using Burmese musicians on location in Myanmar.

Whicker’s World Foundation’s Artistic Director, Jane Ray, said: “This plush and iconic venue, whilst not on a par for sheer ‘bling’ with the gilded palaces of Mandalay, is the perfect venue to screen the first documentary funded with Alan’s Whicker’s legacy. This is not least because it is custodian to some of the most gorgeous and unseen treasures from a lost monarchy. The library has undertaken to put on an exhibition alongside the World Premiere screening so that the public can see for the first time what was lost – and now thanks to first-time film maker Alex Bescoby and his talented team, The British Library and Open City Docs, has been found.”

BBC world affairs reporter Mike Thomson who will be introducing film maker Alex Bescoby first visited Burma as a teenager in 1971. He fell in love with the country and its people. He had been going back ever since to report for the BBC where he is a senior and multi award-winning foreign affairs correspondent. During the army’s dictatorship, when the BBC were banned from the country, Mike assumed a new identity at considerable personal risk in order to keep telling the story. He reinvented himself as a furniture restorer, a bit of a lost hippy. The character was (very loosely) based on his brother Pete who taught him some furniture restoration skills just in case he had to French polish his way out of danger.

Tickets to the event are £12 (£8 concession) and available to purchase here on the British Library website