Every April, the World circus Federation, under the patronage of Princess Stephanie of Monaco, presents World Circus Day. It's the perfect day to visit the big top. But if you can't get to a circus this Saturday, April 15, here are five DVDs that will let you soak up the atmosphere of the sawdust circle from the best seat in the house - your favourite armchair.

Flying trapeze

Starring Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster and Gina Lollobrigida, Carol Reed's glorious 1950s Film Trapeze brings the colour of the circus to the screen in a way that no other film ever has.

The love triangle plot is melodramatic, but the movie is a visual feast. Set in a Parisian circus building, every frame is filled with horses, clowns and acrobats. Lancaster was a real life trapeze star before taking up acting, and the queasy flying trapeze scenes will make you feel like you're really flying through the air without a safety net.


The motto of the Mexican circus is "Through good and bad - the circus forever." Aaron Schock's indelible documentary Circo, about the impoverished Grand Circo Mexico leaves no doubt that big top life in that country is far from easy but also impresses with the determination of a circus family struggling against the odds to keep their show on the road.

Tensions run high as the family pitch their tent in third world conditions and teach their children to carry on the tradition. But for all the hardships on screen, the film has a gritty poetry, brought out by the haunting soundtrack by instrumental group Galaxico.

Circus of yesteryear

Pathe News is synonymous with wartime news footage, but the company also filmed the entertainers of the day, including circus acts.

The British Circus 1898 - 1972 brings to life a world from the past when circus rings were filled with elephants, sea lions, polar bears, big cats and football-playing dogs. The earliest footage shows a visit to Victorian Britain by America's Barnum and Bailey Circus, while the most recent take us from black and white into the world of colour.

Variety acts

There's more Pathe news film in Variety Acts and Turns of the Pre-War Years and its companion DVD, Variety Acts and Turns of the Post-War Years. Both feature all kinds of entertainers from singers to comedians, but there is a large contingent of circus acts. Filmed in gleaming black and white, highlights include a strong man hammering a nail into wood with his palm... and then pulling it out with his teeth. There are also plenty of jugglers and a knife thrower balancing on a slack wire as he throws blades at a girl on a revolving target.

Irish legend

The charming documentary Fortune's Wheel tells the story of the Fairview Lion Tamer, a suburban Irish man who taught himself to train big cats and made headlines in the 1950s when one of his lions escaped from a garage and terrorised the streets of Dublin. The trainer later met a tragic end when he was devoured by his own lion during an audition for an American circus.