Britain on Film: Railways on Film

Britain on Film: Railways

Dir: various|UK|1898 - 1970|83 mins|U (some flashing light sequences, see below)

Your chance to travel back to a time when travelling by rail was comfortable, punctual and maybe even glamorous!

One of the programmes from our new archive tour, Britain on Film: Railways is a major new collection of rare archive films charting the history of the UK's railways and bringing home the romance and heady freedoms offered by train travel as it expanded across the country in the early 20th century.

Sourced from the national and regional archives and newly digitised, Britain on Film: Railways is an immensely nostalgic and evocative collection of films which document not just the glories of the railway, but also the changing social, political and economic climates of the 20th century.

Please note: the programme contains a sequence of flashing lights which might affect audience members with photosensitive epilepsy.

Supported by

Britain on Film

BFI Unlocking

Esmee Fairbairn


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Booking information

Available formats
DCP, Blu-ray and DVD
Released on 11 November 2016. Available for booking now
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0207 636 7120
Independent Cinema Office
Cinemas and theatres - 35% / £100 MG (plus DCP transport costs)
Community cinemas, film clubs, film societies – 35% / £50 MG
Community groups and membership organisations - £20

Films in the programme

Conway Castle - small

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.

Kiss in the Tunnel - small

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 train, intended as a comic filler sequence to play as part of the ‘phantom ride’ films popular in Victorian cinema.

Pathways of Perfection - smallPathways 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 Hog moving - smallRailways 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, but 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 - smallElizabethan 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 Birmingham sign - smallLet’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 (2) - smallSnow | 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 - smallRailways 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 and look forward to railways for ever as he moves through a photographic exhibition in Kingsway.

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