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Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in North East England. Retired parish priest, theological educator, cathedral precentor and dean.

Friday, 12 July 2013

The Railway Adults

So The Railway Children has attracted its first complaint in 42 years. Someone has alerted the British Board of Film Classification to the risk that the film could encourage children to play on railway tracks and harm others and themselves.

Quite right. And this is not the only railway film that poses moral hazard to the young. In response to a BBC Radio 4 tweet request to nominate films for the censor’s scrutiny, I put in my candidate: The Railway Adults, aka Brief Encounter. I gather this suggestion got read out on the air waves, so I thought I had better expand on it.

The fact is that David Lean’s famous black-and-white film, released in 1945 and starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, is dangerously subversive of high moral values. I have tested this out through having shown it once to a group of senior clergy and laity, two of whom, including a bishop, were definitely Not Amused.  

Think about it.  All those steam engines thundering through Carnforth Station, their clouds of smoke billowing up to such great effect. It is marvellously atmospheric, of course, but at what cost to the atmosphere itself?  It’s cynically calculated to encourage the extravagant use of fossil-fuels that pollute the planet and contribute to climate-change. When we are trying to help children have respect for the environment, this is hardly a film to promote wholesome values.   

Then take its attitude to ophthalmology (thanks to another tweeter for pointing this out). The smoke from a passing train drives a speck of soot into Celia Johnson’s eye. Trevor Howard extracts it by inserting his handkerchief into her eye. This is hardly good hygiene, and the fact that a doctor behaves with complete disregard for accepted medical procedure makes it much worse. A young person considering a career in medicine could be badly corrupted by this disgraceful example of clinical practice.

Celia Johnson, in a memorable homage to Anna Karenina, reaches such a pitch of misery that she contemplates throwing herself in front of a train. No comment on the sheer unsuitability of this scene for the young is needed from me. Anyone viewing it, not just a child, might need intensive counselling. At the very least, parents should be warned.

Inside the café on platform – what number was it now? – things are no better. I am not thinking so much of ticket-collector Stanley Holloway’s crude humour and innuendo. It’s more café-manageress Joyce Carey’s snobbery, her unpleasant assumptions about class, her condescending de haut en bas manner with everyone who does not share her Daily Mail world-view. It is attitudes like these that are so corrosive of etiquette, courtesy and societal cohesion. The young should definitely not be exposed to them.

I forebear to speak about the film’s storyline, or its Rachmaninov score calculated to inflame the passions of the young. Nor will I comment on its self-evidently risqué title. That in itself should be enough to warn anyone that Brief Encounter is strictly for adults only.  Certificate 18 please, BBFC: nothing less will do. 

As for another subversive railway film The Titfield Thunderbolt, that will have to wait for another blog. 

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