Today: July 17, 2024

The Titfield Thunderbolt

What was it the Bard said? “Age can not wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.” He was talking about that darling of the Nile, Cleopatra, but it’s a quote that could well have been Ealing Studios’ tag line.

What
was it the Bard said? “Age can not wither her, nor custom stale her infinite
variety.” He was talking about that darling of the Nile, Cleopatra, but it’s a
quote that could well have been Ealing Studios’ tag line.

Films have been made at the White Lodge in
Ealing Green since 1902 and the company’s history takes them from the War Time
sing-a-longs of Gracie Fields to the
blood splattered silliness of Shaun Of
The Dead
. However it’s the
‘Ealing Comedies’ that made the studio’s name and, even after all these
decades, age has not withered them. Not a bit.

Around seventeen films, made between 1947 to
1957, fall under the Ealing Comedy label including the likes of Passport To Pimlico (1949), Whisky Galore!
(1949), Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Man
In the White Suit (1951)
and The
Ladykillers (1955)
. Sadly, though, amongst all this “infinite variety” The Titfield Thunderbolt has always
been considered a bit of an also ran. So StudioCanal’s decision to release a
digitally restored edition in time for the film’s 60th Anniversary is a pleasant surprise, because this is a film
which really rewards a rewatch.

Written by Oscar Winning screenwriter TEB (‘Tibby’) Clarke and Directed by Charles Crichton, The Titfield
Thunderbolt tells the tale of what happens when a small town community decide
to take on the ‘man’. Ealing comedies always liked to mix it up, combining
social commentary, with heart-warming stories and high farce, and Titfield is
perhaps the best example of this. Think It’s
A Wonderful Life
only with more booze and steam trains. Which, of course,
is a good thing.

Originally released in 1953, after British Rail
slashed hundreds of local train services, the film follows the consequences of
the closure of the Titfield to Mallingford branch line. At the prompting of the
local train buff, Reverend Weech (played with great gusto by George Relph) and financed by the
village lush (a superb Stanley Holloway)
who is attracted by the complete lack of licensing hours on trains, the scheme
looks to be a great success. That is until the local bus operators, Pearce and
Crump, realise that there’s money to be made from desperate commuters.

The duo (played by Ewan Roberts and Jack
MacGowran
) manage to reach Dick Dastardly levels of moustache-twirling
villainy as they attempt to stop the burgeoning local railway service. In
return, the villagers give as good as they get and soon it’s all out war. Sid
James
is on fine form as, well, Sid James. Godfrey Tearle does a fabulous job as the Bishop of Welchester, who
is co-opted in to act as fireman on the mend-and-make-do railway. While Ealing
regular John Gregson plays the
charming, ‘everyman’ local squire.

The restored print is a joy to see and, with a
wealth of extras, including a superb “Making Of” feature, The Titfield
Thunderbolt is a welcome addition to StudioCanal’s ever expanding Ealing
catalogue.

The
Titfield Thunderbolt is out on DVD & Blu-Ray on 14th January 2013.

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email: writerpaula@icloud.com

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