The film era in Britain commenced in early 1896, but its moral impact on viewers was not considered very much during its first decade. This was primarily because film was dispersed in a variety of venues like music halls and fairgrounds where other entertainment was provided, or in unused shops and other premises that were temporarily rented. Film thus had no permanent, separate identity as a leisure activity that took place in one particular type of public space, hence it was difficult for moralists to recognize, much less discern and evaluate its moral influence. Moreover, many of the middle class (from whom most moralists came) dismissed the early film industry as a passing, vulgar fad of the working class that need not be taken seriously.
But moralists did begin to notice the impact of the industry when film acquired a conspicuous new identity of its own in the years after 1906 when thousands of purpose-built cinemas were constructed. The tremendous growth of both the cinemas and their mostly working-class, youthful audiences led some middle-class moralists to focus their attention on film for the first time. They soon concluded that the cinemas undermined the morality of their young audiences and launched a crusade against the film industry. The general outlines of the campaign are well known. Moralists charged that the darkened cinemas provided cover for couples to court and for some men to abuse children. They also asserted that many films were sensational ones about sexual indecency, crime, and violence. Such fare, they contended, encouraged immorality and incited juvenile delinquency among youth who imitated the crimes they saw enacted on screen. The moralists therefore demanded censorship of the films, brighter lighting in the cinemas to discourage sexual misbehavior, and police action against indecency. Moreover, Sabbatarians opposed the opening of the cinemas on Sundays as a further desecration of that holy day of rest.