Showing on Sky Arts 2 (12.35pm Holiday Tuesday 27 December and 11.35pm, Thursday 29 December) is one of the most instantly recognisable films in British film history. Shot in 1936, Night Mail is an historic look at the early days of the Royal Mail train delivery service, featuring music by Benjamin Britten and poetry by WH Auden.
Running at just 25-minutes, this unique window onto a distant past has been re-mastered and digitally restored by the BFI as a standalone DVD, and has also been included on a 2011 release, The Soviet Influence: From Turksib to Night Mail.
In the early 1930s, a number of Soviet propaganda films inspired a host of British documentary filmmakers. This specially curated Dual Format BFI release traces the influence that films like Turksib (Viktor Turin, 1929) – about the construction of the Turkestan-Siberian railway – had on British shorts, including Basil Wright’s Night Mail, which essentially applied the aesthetic lessons of Soviet cinema to a very British tale.
Night Mail is certainly a must-see film for lovers of British history, documentary film-making and trains. You can watch it here in three parts, catch it on Sky Arts 2 over Christmas, or buy it from the BFI filmstore