Night Mail (Remastered and Restored) DVD

Harry Watt, Basil Wright, 1936

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Film Details

Directed by Harry Watt, Basil Wright

Produced in 1936

Main Language - ENGLISH

Countries & Regions - British Film

MovieMail's Review

This is a comprehensive release of a flm of central importance in British film history. One of the most highly revered productions from the GPO Film Unit, it is an experimental film that shows the nightly run of the postal special train from London to Glasgow. A highly collaborative work, with input from Harry Watt, Basil Wright, Alberto Cavalcanti and John Grierson among others, it is however the WH Auden/Benjamin Britten section (‘This is the night mail crossing the border/bringing the cheque and the postal order…’) that is its famous bit. Justly so, as a palpable excitement builds as the train speeds up and the verse speeds up as the train nears its destination. There is more to the film than this though, with its incidental noises orchestrated by Cavalcanti, and its night scenes of staff and trains at Crewe station that recall Bill Brandt photographs in their use of light and shade particularly noteworthy.

The film’s popularity and commercial success has come at a price. Original negatives suffered much wear and tear, and these materials were used to strike many prints without duplicate materials made for preservation. This new restoration of Night Mail was made using a new duplicate negative struck from the film's original nitrate fine grain element. Graded, mended, cleaned and stabilised, it still shows its age, but it now looks and sounds better than it has for many years.

A selection of related films accompany this release. Night Mail 2 is a 50th anniversary production, with its poetry from Blake Morrison roughing up the romanticism that has accrued to the former film: ‘dirty, oily, greasy … heavy work’ says a postman of that iconic catching and dispatching apparatus. Way to the Sea is a rather eccentric film about line electrification that also benefits from Auden and Britten’s inputs. Spotlight on the Night Mail uses much the same raw material as Night Mail to very different effect , while the BTF production 30 Million Letters is a real treat, boasting posties in blizzards and even using a horse and cart in the sea to deliver mail. (‘I never venture across if it’s more than four and a half feet’ says the intrepid mailman.)

Graeme Hobbs on 30th October 2007
Author of 300 reviews

Night Mail (Remastered and Restored) Night Mail (Remastered and Restored) Night Mail (Remastered and Restored)

Film Description

Night Mail remains one of the most popular and instantly recognised films in British film history, and was one of the most critically acclaimed films to be produced within the British documentary film movement. An account of the operation of the Postal Special - the Royal Mail train delivery service - it shows the various stages and procedures of that operation, through mail collection to sorting. As the train nears its destination we see the best-known sequence, in which WH Auden's spoken verse and Benjamin Britten's music are combined over a montage of racing train wheels.

DVD Details

Certificate: E

Publisher: BFI

Length: 116 mins

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Format: DVD B&W

Region: 2

Released: 26th January 2009

Cat No: BFIVD833

Subtitles: English

DVD Extras

  • The Way to the Sea (UK, 1936) Features verse by Auden and music by Britten
  • Spotlight on the Night Mail (UK, 1948)
  • Thirty Million Letters (UK, 1963)
  • Night Mail 2 (UK, 1986) (updated version of Night Mail featuring poetry by Blake Morrison)
  • Fully illustrated booklet with essays by Blake Morrison and film composer Miguel Mera
  • Benjamin Britten diary extracts and more.

Film Stills

Night Mail (Remastered and Restored) Night Mail (Remastered and Restored) Night Mail (Remastered and Restored)

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Community Reviews

by Anon on 23rd October 2007

This new BFI Digital Restoration of Nightmail was made using a new duplicate negative struck from the film's original nitrate fine grain element, preserved at the BFI ... Read on

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