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King George V (1970)


Main image of King George V (1970)
35mm, colour, 11 mins
DirectorPaul Barnes
Production CompaniesNational Coal Board Film Unit
 Bulmer's of Hereford
ProducerRobert Kruger
ScriptPaul Barnes
 Francis Gysin
PhotographyCharles Hasler

The history of the celebrated steam locomotive, King George V, which has now found a final resting place at the works of Messrs. Bulmers in Hereford.

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The King George V steam train was decommissioned in 1962: by the time this loving cinematic portrait was made, it remained in working order but was being privately preserved (under the enthusiastic patronage of Bulmers Cider!).

King George V isn't only of interest to steam engine enthusiasts. It throws intriguing sidelights on documentary film history. Made by the National Coal Board Film Unit, it originated as a potential Mining Review story, but during production Unit head Francis Gysin supported pushing for it as a separate release.

Incidental references to powering by coal aside, the film has nothing to do with mining. It would soon become regular practice for the NCB's filmmakers to turn out 'general interest' Review items, for outside sponsors. But already, over the course of the 1960s they had been actively broadening the range of their work through ambitious productions like Master Singers - Two Choirs and a Valley (1965) and Portrait of a Miner (1966). This newfound creativity was partly because of the arrival of younger staffers and freelancers - such as Paul Barnes, who directed several Review items and NCB training films, but was also a steam engine enthusiast responsible for the atmospheric independent productions The Painter and the Engines (1967) and Black Five (1968).

Particular ironies occur when comparing the NCB's output of the time with that of British Transport Films: its closest film industry counterpart. While the NCB excelled at specialist, technical filmmaking, BTF was always miles ahead in the production of highly budgeted, cinematically crafted films aimed at general audiences. The NCB's 1960s spurt of creativity must partly have been influenced by this fact: and interestingly, in this case it led it to make a film running directly counter to the policy of its fellow state corporation. Some hallmark BTF touches are present but BTF would never have made a film celebrating recently, controversially decommissioned technology (in fact, British Rail would soon relent on its post-steam policy, with the KGV itself the first to be back on the network).

Stylistically, the film's doubly dated: adding modish touches such as jump-cuts and zooms to occasionally cloying nostalgia. Nonetheless, it's sincere, proficient and contains some great 35mm colour imagery. Gysin's belief that it could prove a relatively prestige release was certainly vindicated: King George V was screened at 1970's Royal Film Performance, as the short accompanying Love Story (US, 1970). Interesting double-bill!

Patrick Russell

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Video Clips
1. Number 6000 (2:37)
2. Wiltshire magic (3:30)
3. A happy retirement (2:08)
Complete film (10:18)
The National Coal Board - The Documentaries