MEDiA: The Titfield Thunderbolt, 1953

What a strange film! More by modern standards than those of the day. Filmed in glorious Technicolor – it was the first Ealing comedy filmed in the new format – it’s a picture postcard fantasy of a certain time in and idea of England.

In essence it’s s comedy about the beginnings of ‘heritage’ railways; as the state withdrew from steam locomotion, the public stepped in. Apparently it’s even based on a real Welsh example, which was allegedly the very first such heritage line. It’s noteworthy that this is a whole decade before the infamous Beeching axe would fall.

Stanley Holloway as Walter Valentine.

Visually it’s beautiful, a celluloid time-capsule. And it’s also quite sweet in how it portrays the era. There’s a just post-WWII ‘Blitz spirit’, as when the passengers of the train all pitch in to get water, after the dastardly bus crew get Harry Hawkins (Sid James) to sabotage the water supply.

There are some thumping great ironies in there, as well, as witness, for example, when there’s a joke about how, if the railway makes too much profit, they’ll be nationalised! Modern history has demonstrated, over and over again, especially under Toryism, that losses are usually passed on to the public purse, whilst profit is privatised.

The Vicar and the drunk, crewing the train.

And then there also all sorts of moments, for example at the public meeting, when Squire Chesterford (John Gregson) makes the case for the railway, as opposed to bus/road developments, on the basis of how it’ll change the nature of Titfield. He mentions old country lanes getting tarmac’ed and houses being numbered, not named.

Of course the trains themselves were at one time the harbingers of modern doom. But now they are – and evidently even back in ‘53 they were – the stuff of ‘olde England’! And there are many other little interesting insights into certain visions of how life was then (the squire and the poacher!), progress, and what makes for the ideal life.

Lovely old Bedford bus.

One of the things I like most about this film is the saturated slightly gaudy colour, AKA Technicolor. It’s very like the intense colouring of some design and illustration of that era. And so many things, from clothes, to furniture to cars, trucks, etc, are so much more aesthetically pleasing than so much modern mass-produced tat.

For example, the old Bedford OG bus, of the villainous rivals of the loco’ lovers, Pearce & Crump, is gorgeous. And I absolutely adore the upholstery fabric inside the bus:

Dig that old fabric!

It has to be admitted I was only half watching the film, whilst Teresa and I played our Sunday afternoon Scrabble game, in between World Cup match viewing. I really ought to watch it again and give it my full attention.

But it seems to me good solid old-fashioned period ‘50s fun. I’d definitely recommend it.

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