fri 25/09/2020

DVD: Metro-Land | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Metro-Land

DVD: Metro-Land

Betjeman takes the train into England's suburban oddness

Betjeman in suburbia, where an Englishman's home is his mock-Tudor castle

Sir John Betjeman was made to explore the polite suburban sprawl of Metro-land, and this 1973 BBC film is the much-loved peak of his TV career. The marketing term Metro-land justified the Metropolitan Railway’s Tesco-style land-grab along its route north of Baker Street into the countryside of Middlesex, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Annual booklets of the same name idealised its suburban estates’ swamping of rail-side villages as rustic oases linked to urban work by train.

Sir John Betjeman was made to explore the polite suburban sprawl of Metro-land, and this 1973 BBC film is the much-loved peak of his TV career. The marketing term Metro-land justified the Metropolitan Railway’s Tesco-style land-grab along its route north of Baker Street into the countryside of Middlesex, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Annual booklets of the same name idealised its suburban estates’ swamping of rail-side villages as rustic oases linked to urban work by train. 1910 footage shot along the then-rural line from a carriage contrasts with Betjeman’s leisurely journey through 1970s suburbia, in the territory where The Good Life was filmed.

As a presenter, Betjeman is quizzical, prone to poetic reveries on his past in these places, and ready with a jolly grin at, say, the Wurlitzer organ a family man’s quiet obsession has moved from the Empire Leicester Square to his Chorley Wood front room. “A speculative builder let himself go,” he wryly observes of a 19th century mini-castle in a Middlesex street, one of many residual follies and local foibles along his superficially prosaic route. It’s Iain Sinclair-style psycho-geography, minus the heavy Beat style. At over-grown Varney Junction, where Victorian dreams of this railway linking Manchester to Paris via a Channel Tunnel petered out, Betjeman almost sighs with relief at the English countryside’s eventual triumph. “Goodbye, high hopes and over-confidence,” he concludes, with an elegiac flourish. “In fact, it’s probably goodbye England.”  

The extras in this nicely designed if pricey release are identical to the 2006 edition: Metropolitan-related news footage, including a 1946 crash in Neasden and the last steam train on the line in 1971, as well as a booklet written by the programme’s producer, Edward Mirzoeff. It’s an ideal package for railway enthusiasts whose enthusiasm partly rests in the odd English corners railways have run to.

“A speculative builder let himself go,” Betjeman wryly observes of a 19th century mini-castle in a Middlesex street

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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