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Journey into Spring (1957)


Main image of Journey into Spring (1957)
35mm, Technicolor, 29 mins
DirectorRalph Keene
Production CompanyBritish Transport Films
ProducerIan Ferguson
PhotographyPatrick Carey
CommentaryLaurie Lee
MusicEdward Williams

Flora and fauna around the village of Selbourne, Hampshire, during springtime.

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Although the output of British Transport Films is understandably biased in favour of films about transport in general and rail transport in particular, the unit also achieved considerable renown for its natural history films, of which this was the first. It won the Best Documentary BAFTA, and was nominated for two Oscars (Best Documentary and Best Short Subject) amongst other awards, giving a considerable boost to BTF's international profile.

The journey suggested by the title is through time rather than space. In fact, two such journeys are made: the first back to the eighteenth century to pay tribute to the work of the pioneering naturalist and ornithologist Gilbert White (1720-1793), and the second studies the changing natural landscape near White's home town of Selborne in Hampshire between a typical March and May.

The other distinguished literary name associated with the film is that of the writer and poet Laurie Lee (1914-1997), though he was still two years off publishing the autobiographical novel Cider with Rosie (1959), around which his lasting fame revolves. Lee was also a prolific writer of commentaries for films made by the BBC and the Ministry of Information. This was his first and only project for BTF, though he had worked several times with director Ralph Keene on documentaries in the late 1940s.

Lee's occasionally self-consciously poetic commentary sets the geographical and historical scene and identifies numerous species of animal, bird and plant life (often citing White's own descriptions) that begin to flourish as winter turns to spring. The wildlife photographer Patrick Carey (whose Wild Wings would finally win BTF its coveted Oscar in 1964) contributes evocative Technicolor images of outstanding beauty, ranging from wide landscape shots to extreme close-ups of ants and harvest mice, the latter described in the commentary as the length of a child's finger and less than the weight of a copper halfpenny.

Human activity is all but invisible (except when studying the nests of house martins, built under the eaves of cottages out of mud, lime and straw), a deliberate and entirely successful attempt at making the film as timeless as possible. Over half a century on, this is one of BTF's loveliest films, and a valuable record of the teeming variety that lurks in Britain's ponds and hedgerows.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI British Transport Films DVD compilation 'Off the Beaten Track'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (28:47)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Between the Tides (1958)
British Transport Films