Theme: Function

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.Romance: An Ode to the Train Station

It is three minutes to twelve and she has been standing under the big clock at Waterloo for twenty
seven minutes. She preferred to be early, it gave her time to breath deeply. She felt more
prepared. She had a copy of the financial times tucked under her arm and a red carnation pinned
to her lapel. Nothing is worth doing if it isn’t done properly, her grandmother always used to say.

He was early too. She had seen him get off the train on platform 8. He had not seen her and was
standing outside having cigarette after cigarette so that he would be perceived to arrive at precisely
their agreed time, noon. These three minutes eek out and feel more like fifteen. She feels the muscles in her cheeks
pinch as she tries to conceal a smile when she sees him finally approach her. She bites her tongue, hard,
to try and maintain a solid steel gaze. This look was one she mimicked from spy films. She felt
stern disinterest positioned her features in their most attractive formation. Everything is in soft
black and white, with a slight grain.

He is much taller than she is. She can see that more today than ever. It must be the light, she
thinks. It is over cast but the clouds are thin and therefore leaking. How will he kiss her? She will
have to stand high on the balls of her feet. He will have to choose whether to lean to the right or left

There are few films that articulate the romance of train stations better than ‘Brief Encounter’. It manages to encapsulate the majestic quality of the environment when the railways were at there most architecturally interesting. Granted, things have changed a great deal since the film was made and the old fashioned trains with their heavy, chugging sounds and whistles, and billowing steam did have a drama of their own that we are certainly lacking in the present day. It also highlights the fleeting nature of a meeting at a train station which is what makes the encounter between the central characters all the more thrilling as it so easily may not have happened. And yet, it did.

Arrival of a Train
(A. Lumiere & L. Lumiere, 1896)
Though not strictly romantic, it would impossible to make this list without mentioning this film. It is one of the earliest motion pictures ever created and simply shows a train pulling into a station with passengers alighting or boarding. The film was so shocking at the time as, though is is black and white and complete with flickers and grain, it has been said that people fainted in the cinema as they feared the train would burst from the screen and run them down.

The Kiss in the Tunnel
(G. A. Smith, 1899)
This film was made a mere 3 years after the ‘Arrival of a Train’, demonstrating the relationship between cinema and the railways was a close one in this period. It shows a train entering a tunnel before cutting to a couple sat in an ornate train carriage. As they enter the tunnel he begins flirting with her and kisses her repeatedly, while she is shown giggling coyly. As they leave the tunnel they both return to reading their books as though the kiss never happened. This perfectly encapsulates the element of adventure that adds to romanticism of train travel, that this illicit kiss may never have happened were they not permitted that short time of being plunged into darkness as they journey to wherever it is they are going. Their pretence that it did not happens implies an illicit nature in their stolen kisses, which makes it all the more thrilling.

Brief Encounter
(D. Lean, 1945)
There are few films that articulate the romance of train stations better than ‘Brief Encounter’. It manages to encapsulate the majestic quality of the environment when the railways were at there most architecturally interesting. Granted, things have changed a great deal since the film was made and the old fashioned trains with their heavy, chugging sounds and whistles, and billowing steam did have a drama of their own that we are certainly lacking in the present day. It also highlights the fleeting nature of a meeting at a train station which is what makes the encounter between the central characters all the more thrilling as it so easily may not have happened. And yet, it did.

Sliding Doors
(P. Howett, 1998)
Though the London Underground could be said to harbour more infectious disease than
possibilities for love, it has an intrigue all of it’s own. The subterranean universe has the feeling that it exists entirely separately from the streets upstairs. The concept of mysterious possibility is the entire premise of this film. It shows two separate outcomes for one woman if she were to make the train she needs to catch, or if she were to miss it and be forced to catch the next one. In this sense, it continues the legacy laid out by brief encounter as the magic and romance that surround trains in rooted in their ability to surprise us with the unknown opportunity of love.

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