Your chance to travel back to a time when travelling by steam engine was comfortable, punctual and maybe even glamorous!
Sourced from the national and regional archives and newly digitised for the first time, Britain on Film: Railways is an immensely nostalgic and evocative collection of films from the BFI archives. These short films document the glories of the railway and the steam engine, but also the changing social, political and economic climates of the 20th century.
Film programme – Runnning time 80 mins
Conway Castle | Dir: unknown | UK | 1898 | 2 mins A phantom train ride, with the camera attached to the very front of the locomotive. This beautiful hand-tinted film shot in February 1898 has a dream-like quality.
The Kiss in the Tunnel | Dir: G. A. Smith | UK | 1899 | 3 mins The earliest film kiss held by the BFI National Archive is this stolen smooch aboard a steam engine. It was intended as a comic filler sequence to play as part of the ‘phantom ride’ films popular in Victorian cinema.
Pathways of Perfection | Dir: unknown | UK | 1937 | 16 mins Day and night, year in year out, British railways serve the nation. Four famous trains – the Royal Scot, Flying Scotsman, Cornish Riviera and Golden Arrow – uphold a great tradition.
Railways Today | Dir: Unknown | US | 1947 | 16 mins It’s full steam ahead for the Transport Act of 1947. Wartime restrictions, cuts and damage left the railways of Britain with little chance of an immediate return to their pre-war golden age. The Labour government thinks nationalisation is the answer. Not everybody is in agreement. Here, the March of Time cinemagazine investigates if there’s anything to learn from railways on the other side of the pond.
Elizabethan Express | Dir: Tony Thompson | UK | 1954 | 20 mins From Kings Cross to Waverley Edinburgh is 393 miles. The Elizabethan covered the journey in six hours non-stop. This film captures the speed and excitement of the great days of steam.
Let’s Go to Birmingham | Dir: Jack West | UK | 1962 | 6 mins In 1952 the BBC produced a short novelty film under the title London to Brighton in Four Minutes. Filmed from the front of a train at two frames per second and then run at the standard 24, it gave the illusion of a spectacularly high-speed journey. This technique proved so popular with audiences that it was copied many times by other film units. ‘Let’s Go to Birmingham’ was British Transport Films’ first attempt.
Snow | Dir: Geoffrey Jones | UK | 1963 | 7 mins Geoffrey Jones shot this just as a heavy winter’s snowfall was melting, and compressed British Rail’s dedication to blizzard-battling
Railways for Ever! | Dir: Norman Prouting | UK | 1970 | 7 mins As the last steam train crosses the Pennines, Sir John Betjeman begins to reminisce. His nostalgic verse and prose recall the great trains of old. He then looks forward to ‘railways forever’ as he moves through a photographic exhibition in Kingsway.