The return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece has become the most significant artefact repatriation issue of the 21st Century. Since Lord Elgin first sold them to the British Museum in 1816, they have been surrounded by controversy; and in the last few years, the voices in the UK for these to be sent back to Athens have grown substantially.
In 1801, Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, began the process of removing a collection of ancient marble sculptures from Athens, Greece. Created in the 5th century BCE, and credited to the sculptor Phidias, the loot included statues and plaques, and most famously of all, over 75 metres of a narrative frieze depicting the citizens of Athens in a religious procession.
The Parthenon had survived over two millennia, despite earthquakes, wars and occupations, and being used as both a Christian church and a mosque. Elgin wanted these for his own stately home but instead sold the priceless sculptures to the British Museum for £35,000 – to pay off his debts.
Since then, controversy has raged over this ‘acquisition’, with the poet Byron a fierce and early critic. Polls show that more than half the UK population and 73% of the UK’s Museum Association members believe the Parthenon Marbles (and other looted artefacts) should be returned to Greece – but the current government is adamant that the artefacts “belong here in the UK” and are well looked after.
THE MARBLES is a new documentary that takes a serious look at the history and the politics around this singular case. This is not simply about a disagreement between the UK and Greece – rather more, it asks fundamental questions about nationhood, history, identity and how we come to terms with the past.
We are a team of British filmmakers, and British citizens who all think that the UK should return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, and when we say all, we mean ALL. No loan, not part of them, but all of them.
Greece is the UK's friend, but this is not how friends treat one another.
THE MARBLES is intended to highlight the truth, not the fantasy that has built up over 200 years. Lord Elgin stole the Parthenon Marbles, which must now be returned to its rightful owner - Greece.
Museums, universities and other public bodies, in almost every country in the developed world, contain artefacts looted or dubiously acquired during colonial times or periods of armed conflict. And the majority of these institutions are conscious of this fact. While some refuse to face up to this dilemma, hiding behind legislation devised in less enlightened times, others are addressing this head-on with innovative, carefully thought-out solutions, and by forging a constructive dialogue with the artefact's communities and countries of origin.
We have already filmed in London and Scotland, outside Lord Elgin’s home, which is where the Parthenon Marbles were originally intended to be housed, Fort William, Glasgow and Aberdeen University’s Benin Bronze. We have recorded interviews with historians, curators, activists and lawyers to understand the true, global significance of this case.
We are now seeking your help in raising funds to complete the film. As a truly independent documentary, we have had no conventional support – which has allowed us to keep a truly independent voice. In particular, we are seeking funds to:
· Complete further filming in the USA, in Greece and elsewhere
· Complete post-production – editing, sound design and mixing, and preparing the film for distribution
· Ensure that we have the rights and clearances to use important historical images and archive footage
The repatriation issue has not so far been covered in a feature documentary before this. THE MARBLES commenced filming on 25th March 2021, the 200th Anniversary of the start of the Greek War of Independence.
Director David Wilkinson writes, “In making THE MARBLES, I aim to put forward a compelling and detailed case as to why the Parthenon Marbles must be repatriated and reunited. Although I am 100% on the Greek side of the debate, I will, of course, also include those who would argue that they should remain in the British Museum, allowing them to put their case. I believe that most people who watch the film will agree that the Parthenon Marbles must be returned, including the citizens of the United Kingdom.”
Some of our contributors so far:
Dame Janet Suzman is one of the UK’s leading campaigners for the return of the Parthenon Marbles; Neil GW Curtis is Head of Museums & Special Collections, University of Aberdeen; Marlen Godwin, a long time British campaigner for the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles.
Tom Minogue is a private individual living in Scotland near the seat of Lord Elgin and has campaigned for the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles; Alexander Herman is the Director of the Institute of Art and Law. Patricia Allan is an expert in the repatriation of artefacts with dubious provenance.
His Excellency Ioannis Raptakis, The Greek Ambassador to London; Mark Stephens, CBE, is a media and Human Rights lawyer; Clare Clifford long time British campaigner for the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles.