The relationship between the First World War and early cinema in Britain is both highly complex and far from predictable. In 1914 the visual styles, narrative conventions, exhibition practices, and social roles of moving pictures were still in flux and wartime upheaval inevitably defined the context in which the cinema’s process of institutionalisation crystallised. The already entrenched popularity of cinema with the British public made it a potentially vital force in the war effort. This article examines a number of local topical films produced in Scotland during the war, arguing that their shifting modes of address are indicative of a strategic alignment which took place between the early cinema trade and the state. Rather than being engineered as propaganda or state intervention, this alignment emerged organically as both the cinema trade and the British state sought to legitimate their projects of market expansion. Moreover, the article draws attention to an often overlooked group of films, suggesting that their local and ephemeral logic affords today’s viewer an experience of historical contingency as a counterpoint to hegemonic discourses.