WORKS: Night Mail; The Way to the Sea.
PERFORMER: John Grierson, Stuart Legg (commentary); directed by Harry Watt, Basil Wright.
CATALOGUE NO: BFI ISBN/EAN: 5035673005224.
Anyone enticed by clips of the 22-year old Britten’s score for the 1936 documentary film, Night Mail, exhilaratingly meshed with the clickety-clack of Auden’s verses, may be surprised if not disappointed to find only three minutes’ worth of it at the end of a 23-minute film. Production assistant Auden provided a belated poetic coda at a late stage; Britten’s involvement came even later. Still, his contribution, (unquestionably a dirty task to handle, and apparently an even more dangerous one to film).Sadly for Britten fans, the so‑called ‘93-minutes extras’ don’t include his first, and more significant collaboration with Auden in the GPO Film Unit, Coal Face His score for The Way to the Sea, a perplexing film celebrating the London-Portsmouth Line, is all-pervasive, but mere pastiche which at least avoids the archness of Auden’s prose text. You can then glean further social history you can from three more diffuse homages to the changing face of the Post Office with scores by other composers of ever-decreasing distinction. The accompanying booklet is full of flavoursome, if sometimes conflicting, documentation.