I’m not sure what exactly this is commemorating, perhaps they’re trying to use pictures of Keira Knightley to divert attention away from selling off Royal Mail for half its market value, but this week a set of new stamps was launched featuring images from ten British cinema classics. The first four films were made by the GPO Film Unit, and the final six were voted for by the public and a panel of experts.
A COLOUR BOX (1935)
NIGHT MAIL (1936)
LOVE ON THE WING (1938)
SPARE TIME (1939)
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946)
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981)
SECRETS AND LIES (1996)
BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (2002)
The GPO film unit was established as a subdivision of the General Post Office’s public relations department. From 1933 until 1940 it produced documentary films mainly taking the activities of the GPO as their subject matter, and many famous filmmakers and artists contributed to its output. Its most famous film is probably NIGHT MAIL (1936), which turns the story of the overnight London to Scotland Postal Special train into a hymn to collective labour using music by Benjamin Britten and a poem by W.H.Auden, both written for especially for the film. Its narrator, John Grierson, is the man who coined the term “documentary”.
This got me thinking about the best postal workers in cinema, those men and women who went the extra mile to deliver that letter, package or postal order.
And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?
1. WENT THE DAY WELL (Cavalcanti, UK, 1942)
A sleepy English village becomes the entrypoint for invasion of the British isles by a squadron of Nazi paratroopers in this brilliant Ealing war film. In its most shocking and memorable scene, elderly village postmistress Mrs Collins (Muriel George) hacks a German soldier to death with an axe in her living room, surely securing her that ‘Employee of the Month’ award down the depot.
2. CAST AWAY (Zemeckis, US, 2000)
I was in two minds whether this was an excellent piece of customer service or a really terrible one. On the one hand, FedEx employee Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) overcomes a plane crash, survives for four years on a desert island, then manages to row his way back to civilisation through a storm, but on the other, that package is four years late isn’t it? Presumably a full refund is in order. We never find out what’s in the package, a postman’s lot is not for the curious.
3. IL POSTINO (Radford, Italy, 1994)
Island fisherman decides he’s bored of fish, gets a job as a postman even though there’s only one bloke on his tiny island who can read and therefore ever receives letters. No, this is not cost effective.
4. THE POSTMAN FIGHTS BACK (Yum, Hong Kong, 1982)
In the early years of the Chinese republic, an evil Northern warlord instructs four men (including Chow Yun Fat and Ka-Yan Leung) to deliver four mysterious cases which they must never open. Get proof of delivery or die tryin’.
5. POSTMAN PAT: THE MOVIE (Disa, UK, 2014)
In which Pat is too busy participating in a TV talent show to notice his very existence is being threatened by an army of giant robots. He travels back in time to warn his past stop-motion self and try to prevent this pivotal moment in Greendale history. No, sorry, I’m confusing it with the sequel, “Days of Future Pat”.