Night Mail (Remastered and... View large image
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Film Details

Directed by: Harry Watt Basil Wright

Produced: 1936

Countries & Regions: United Kingdom

DVD Details

Certificate: E

Studio: British Film Institute

Length: 116 mins

Format: DVD

Released: 26 November 2007

Cat No: BFIVD833

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Night Mail (Remastered and Restored)

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Lauded 1936 documentary, showing the various stages and procedures of the operation of the Royal Mail train delivery service, that... Read More

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Lauded 1936 documentary, showing the various stages and procedures of the operation of the Royal Mail train delivery service, that remains one of the most instantly recognised films in British film history. It begins with a voiceover commentary describing how the mail is collected for transit. Then, as the train proceeds along the course of its journey, we are shown the various regional railway stations at which it collects and deposits its cargo. Inside the train the process of sorting takes place. As it nears its destination there is a sequence - the best known in the film - in which WH Auden’s spoken verse and Benjamin Britten’s music are combined over montage images of racing train wheels.

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 National Archive. Each frame was painstakingly graded to capture the full values of the film, with strict attention paid to contrast, detail and consistency. The film then underwent full picture restoration to remove scratches, dirt and debris, as well as improve torn and missing frames and address stability issues. The audio was transferred from the best possible source materials available and underwent further restoration, cleaning up bumps, pops, clicks, buzz and sound dips.

Our efforts to restore Nightmail were presented with many challenges. The general wear and tear on the original negatives had clearly been a consequence of the film's popularity. Over the years these materials were used to strike many prints, without duplicate materials made for preservation, as was the standard practice back then. During the film, Nightmail also incorporated shots from stock footage, making for wide variances in image quality throughout the film. Sound was recorded mainly in post-production, but had acquired a number of problems needing attention as well.

It must be said that Nightmail has not been well-served on DVD or Video until now. The film always looked quite grey and flat, with muddy details and poor sound - a sad representation of a film of such high importance to British Film History. With this release, we have worked hard to correct these problems and present Nightmail in the highest quality possible. Suffice it to say that Nightmail now looks and sounds better than it has in many years, and the BFI release is without doubt the definitive version of this seminal film.

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.)

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