Dir: Ken Loach
Starring: Dean Andrews and Thomas Craig
Five railway workers in a Yorkshire depot are affected by the privatisation of British Rail in 1995
A film about railwaymen! The Navigators was inspired by the failure of the Connex South Central and the Connex South Eastern franchises, both lost because of poor service. The film takes its name from the ‘navvies’ (or ‘navvys’), the manual labourers that built Britain’s rail system in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The name was shortened from ‘navigator’ as most of the labourers had built the canal navigations before moving on to undertake railway work. The opening scene features a near-miss incident filmed on the Great Central Railway using Class 25 No.25265 and the ‘Windcutter’ rake of wagons. Most of the film, however, was shot in the yards at Balby, Doncaster, and there is a whole multitude of stock on display. There is a glimpse of the now closed Doncaster Carr loco depot with a pair of Class 37’s (likely 37252 along with 37209 in BR large-logo blue) and a withdrawn Class 47 in the scrap line, along with OHLE coaches, rail-carrying wagons and a 07-series Plasser & Theurer track machine. A yard derailment uses withdrawn Class 47 No.47348 as a prop along with a rake of stored PGA hopper wagons, and the front end of a Class 08 and a Class 66 creep into view during this sequence. When the track gang are working on the lines, Class 56 No.56073 Tremorfa Steelworks passes light engine, and in another scene filmed on the Great Central Railway this time at Rothley, a green Class 127 DMU passes. Perhaps the most unusual sequence is when the gang watch a training video provided by the new company, outlining their aspirations towards the ‘customer’. A huge amount of trains feature on this video, but all are very short, brief glimpses. These include an InterCity and a Res Class 47, a Loadhaul Class 56, a Class 08 shunter, HSTs, Class 91s, a pair of Class 158 DMUs and a Class 320/321 EMU. There are two other brief glimpses of trains that are not entirely clear. The character Mick, played by Thomas Craig, lives in a flat in Sheffield that overlooks the railway, and in one shot there is a brief glimpse through a window of a ‘Sprinter’ DMU crossing a viaduct in the background. Meanwhile, in the scene where he arrives at the yard in Doncaster by car there is a blurred glimpse through the windscreen of the former Tinsley depot Class 08 celebrity shunter No.08879, identifiable through its unique turquoise and black livery. In the final night-time scene filmed at an overbridge on the Great Central Railway, an unidentified diesel loco is moving off in the distance, but its exact identity is unclear. The film had the working subtitle ‘stories from the trackside’ but despite all of the railway content, the remainder lacks bite. The story is quite clear. It becomes all too apparent that the new dynamic, forward thrusting, modern thinking railway is a complete shambles with cost-cutting and agency staff under mining the ‘old guard’, but it isn’t one of Ken Loach’s better films, and the story never quite gets away from the one-sided nature of the script. Workers are all represented as jovial, hardworking types, put down by their bosses who only care about money. The latter may well be true, but the way the workers constantly joke makes them look too good, and the film has far too much sympathy for them when the wider picture needed to be portrayed. Nonetheless, it was a brave film at the time, and Loach’s foray into the privatization of the British Railway system and its devastating effects on its workers is still a worthy cause to champion.