I was thrilled to discover recently that Hornby (they of the model railways) have released a replica of the grand old Titfield Thunderbolt as part of their “trains on film” series in celebration of The Titfield Thunderbolt’s 60thanniversary. My initial joy at hearing this news was sadly curtailed when, on inspection, the model advertised on Hornby’s website proved not to be the venerable old engine liberated from Titfield’s museum at all. Instead, the model on offer appears to be a 1:76 scale version of the Thunderbolt’s predecessor, the rather less colourful locomotive that finds its way unceremoniously into a ditch around the film’s halfway mark. Never mind Hornby, at least you tried.
Thankfully, Studio Canal’s 60th anniversary offering is harder to find fault with; a beautifully restored DVD re-release of Charles Crichton’s uplifting 1953 Ealing comedy, The Titfield Thunderbolt. This amiable Ealing offering transports viewers back to an age when inept and avaricious nationalised rail services were making life unbearable for the average commuter, rather than inept and avaricious privatised ones.
On one terribly idyllic morning the residents of the tiny village of Titfield are greeted with the unfortunate news that their crucial branch line, arterial transport route and lifeblood of the community, is to be closed in favour of a bus service. Naturally the residents are outraged, a bus route means paved roads, street signs, zebra crossings and the like; certainly not a fit and proper state of affairs for this sleepy corner of middle England.
Showing true English entrepreneurial spirit, an eccentric bunch of locals band together to run the line themselves. The local squire will act as guard, the village vicar will drive the thing, and the wealthy landlord – motivated by nothing more than an opportunity to begin his daily drinking at some ungodly hour – will fund the entire venture from his own, vast, pocket.
It’s a cheerful affair, a glimpse at an England largely lost to mass production and drab, characterless urban sprawl; a charming invocation of a serene age of long summer afternoons, friendly pints in the local boozer and peculiar British eccentricity.
For the cynic, the naysayer, it’s another example of British cinema with one eye on the past, rather than two on the future; a vision of quaint simplicity, an atavistic dwelling on past glories. Well perhaps it is a little quaint, but the next time your bus replacement service dumps you in drab, characterless trading estate with nought but a Starbucks in which to while away your miserable hours; you might decide that to be resolutely old-fashioned is not such a bad thing.