Railways for Ever! (1970)

This emotive British Transport Films documentary captures the reflections of poet Sir John Betjeman on the passing of the steam train at a crucial junction for his beloved railways.

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Film details

Introduction

The train pulling out, with rolling hills behind, could have begun many BTF films. But this train was already a museum piece before the film was shown: filmed journeying between Liverpool and Carlisle on the final day of the last steam locomotives in public service.

A montage of train, passengers, bridges, tunnels and passers–by forms the background to Sir Betjeman’s commentary on steam’s appeal. Two years after being appointed Poet Laureate, Betjeman was a popular public figure, associated with a certain barbed nostalgia. He visits an exhibition featuring pictures of trains dating back to George Stephenson, Richard Trevithick and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who Betjeman regards as a 19th century Leonardo. He also finds poetry in technology, rhapsodising about flanged wheels, blast pipes and the balance of revolving and reciprocating parts.

Betjeman barely conceals his horror of cars; for him the appeal of train travel isn’t so much speed as relaxation. While modern services offer many pleasures, he’ll always miss “the hiss of steam, the triumphant scream of the whistle, smuts and the grimy majesty of the whole thing.”

Cast & Credits

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