3hrs 11mins
Dir: Richard Attenborough
Starring: Ben Kingsley and Geraldine James

A film based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the nonviolent non-cooperative Indian independence movement against the British Empire

This mammouth Anglo-Indian biographical drama was a massive success, and is still much revered. For those that are interested, there are some very good shots of British-built Indian and South African Railway steam locomotives, yet surprisingly, a British train does also appear. There is a short sequence filmed in London that recalls Gandhi’s visit to the UK as part of a conference held to discuss India’s independence. During this sequence, there is black-and-white British Movietone newsreel footage of a GWR ‘Castle’ on an express, used to depict Gandhi’s visit to the Lancashire cotton-mills! Although outside the remit for this website, Huntley’s Railways on the Screen covers the film in some depth, and gives information on the problems that Richard Attenborough had during filming and they require retelling here for their interest value alone. The film had the official blessing of the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, so railway facilities were readily offered, and freely used. Nevertheless, it was not always easy: ‘One of the problems for us was the trains’ said Attenborough before continuing ‘they were the only linking network throughout India during the period of our story, but then of course they were steam trains, and not diesels. They also ran sometimes on different gauges from most of those which operate today. This situation applied to South Africa as well and a certain number therefore had to be re-rigged both inside and out. This was especially important for the major scene in which the young Gandhi was thrown of the train at Pietermaritzburg for sitting in a First Class carriage. Travelling up and down the line, both in Africa and India, with the complication of clearing all other trafic from sections of the track so as not to get sudden modern elements bobbing up, proved to be very time consuming and not much fun for the regular travellers. But nowadays, with so much documentary film available both in the cinema and on television, such sequences only have the ring of truth when they are shot in the actual setting and are historically correct’. Such a pity then, that the GWR locomotive should ‘bob up’ unexpectedly. The shortage of working steam locomotives available in India at the time came to a head when staging the derailment of a military train in a yard. The derailed engine was carefully pushed off the track, then had to be rescued after filming, re-railed, sent to works for inspection, then re-entered service!!

A GWR express in the hands of a ‘Castle’ Class 4-6-0 provides the sole British railway element in the film. It seems likely that this shot also appears in The Demi-Paradise (1943) – qv.