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DVD Review: ‘London on the Move’ (BFI release)

★★★★☆

London on the Move, the tenth volume in the BFI’s bestselling double-DVD British Transport Films Collection, makes for fascinating viewing. This collection of short films, produced by the BTF Film Unit for London Transport during the post-war period of 1947 to 1983, shows not only the working day of the men and women whose job it was to keep the capital’s transport system running, but also brief glimpses into the daily routines of the millions of people who used it to get about.

Disc One features six films including All That Mighty Heart, Our Canteens, One For One, The Nine Road, Do You Remember? and the titular London on the Move. Those who dismiss the films as being of interest to only a niche market of hardcore train or bus-spotters are missing gems which are equally important as historical glimpses of life in Britain’s metropolis. Disc Two continues with a further seven films: Cine Gazette No.10, Under Night Streets, Power Signal Lineman, Omnibus 150, Moving London, AFC: Automatic Fare Collection and You and Overhaul.

The thirteen films in total (plus a special feature entitled Moving Millions, made by the Crown Film Unit in 1947) are as quirky and individual as the transport system they depict, beginning with Oscar-winning cinematographer David Watkin’s poetic All That Mighty Heart, which charts a day in the life of London’s busy infrastructure of bus and tube networks.

Watching All That Mighty Heart now, the opening dawn shots of bus conductors and tube drivers making their way through the silent city to start the first shift of the day have a haunting tranquillity and peace the viewer may well feel unobtainable in the ceaseless hubbub of the 21st century. Equally well, 1958’s Under Night Streets and 1976’s The Nine Road show just how much the mechanical and technical systems which made the tube and bus networks run smoothly differ with those of today – though late-runnings and cancellations were equally irksome then.

London on the Move makes mesmerising viewing for anyone with even the slightest interest in the capital through its historical snapshots of a transport system which, like the city for which it is the lifeblood, is ever evolving yet comfortably familiar to those who experience it everyday.

Cleaver Patterson

(Dedicated to Adrian Patterson: 1937-2012)