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Terminus (1961)

The movie follows the routine of a busy train station - London's Waterloo Station - making a brief yet important cultural portrait of 1960s England, mixing reality and fiction.


John Schlesinger
Won 1 BAFTA Film Award. See more awards »


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Uncredited cast:
Margaret Ashcroft Margaret Ashcroft ... Mother (uncredited)
Gertrude Dickin Gertrude Dickin ... Woman Asking About Train (uncredited)
Margaret Lacey Margaret Lacey ... Elderly lady at lost property office (uncredited)
Matthew Perry Matthew Perry ... Little Lost Boy (uncredited)
John Schlesinger ... Passenger (uncredited)


The movie follows the routine of a busy train station - London's Waterloo Station - making a brief yet important cultural portrait of 1960s England, mixing reality and fiction.

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Short | Documentary


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Release Date:

December 1961 (UK) See more »

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Did You Know?


Most of the people in the film were real people going about their business. Margaret Ashcroft (a relative of director John Schlesinger and listed under her married name Margaret Perry), the handcuffed prisoners, and the confused elderly woman (Roland Curram's aunt Gertie) were among the handful of actors. See more »


Jamaican Man
Music by Ron Grainer
Lyrics by Julian Cooper and Michell Raper
Sung by Mike Shaun, Vernon Neptune, and The Don Riddell Singers
See more »

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User Reviews

Flies on the Wall and Birds Eye Views
25 August 2017 | by JamesHitchcockSee all my reviews

British Transport Films was an organisation set up in 1949 to make documentary films on the general subject of British transport, in the same way as the GPO Film Unit had been set up in the 1930s to make films about the work of the Post Office. "Terminus" is one of their productions and takes a look at an ordinary day at Waterloo station in London. It was the first film to be directed by John Schlesinger, who later became one of Britain's best-known directors of feature films.

British documentaries were normally made with the express purpose of educating the public about some topic of general interest, or at least about some topic which the film-makers perceived as being of general interest, and in order to do so normally presented the viewers with a didactic voice-over by an unseen narrator, sometimes backed up by "talking head" interviews. There is none of that in "Terminus". Schlesinger dispenses with narration altogether; the only dialogue we hear consists of conversations between the people we see. This was a style of documentary which became known as "fly-on-the-wall", showing but not telling.

We see a wide cross-section of passengers- male and female, old and young, white and black. (There are numerous black faces featured, a reminder that the late fifties and early sixties were a period of increasing immigration into Britain). We also meet a number of those who work at the station or on the railways- the stationmaster, guards, porters, a signalman (who keeps a cat in his signal box), ticket-sellers, lost-property workers- although, surprisingly, no engine-drivers.

The film was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Documentary and also for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, although it was disqualified from this latter category because it had been released before the eligibility period. (Also, it seems rather too short to qualify as a "feature"). It was evidently well-regarded when it first came out in 1961, possibly because this style of film-making was something of a novelty at the time, and it certainly has some features which still catch the eye fifty-odd years on. Chief among these is Schlesinger's striking camera-work; he seems particularly fond of alternating "fly-on-the-wall" close-ups with "bird's-eye view" long-shots looking down on the station from a height.

Unlike the more traditional style of documentary, however, this one does not tell us much about British transport, even British transport as it existed in the early sixties, except that steam was still the main source of power at the time (and we probably knew that anyway). It didn't come as a great surprise to learn that the film is not as "documentary" as it makes out, as some of the shots were staged using actors. The scenes of the young boy Matthew Perry who is supposedly lost by, and then reunited with, his mother struck me as an obvious fake even while watching the film, but this was not the only sequence in which actors were used. (This "Matthew Perry" is not the future "Friends" actor, who was not born until 1969).

The whole idea behind British Transport Films seems to have been to inform the public about British transport. In "Terminus" Schlesinger has given us some visually arresting images, but I cannot say that he has fulfilled his remit of enlightening us.

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