I saw 'Caught on a Train' when it was first broadcast by the BBC in 1980. Once seen, never forgotten.
"It has the structure of a thriller" says scriptwriter Stephen Poliakoff, "...but without the thriller itself". There are nods to both 'The Lady Vanishes' and 'Murder On The Orient Express', but there is no murder and nobody vanishes. Well, nobody much, anyway...
A young publishing executive from England, Peter (played by Michael Kitchen), catches a train across Europe in order to attend a book fair in Germany. His journey starts out straightforwardly enough, but then gradually descends into a nightmare of suspicion, humiliation and seemingly motiveless persecution. At the heart of the story is fellow-passenger Frau Messner (Dame Peggy Ashcroft), a spoilt, imperious and antagonistic old lady who is travelling home to Vienna. Swathed in furs, she represents the old, pre-war order and is accompanied by the dark shadows of past Nazi associations and the Holocaust. The essence of the piece is the antagonistic anti-relationship which is struck up between Frau Messner and Peter as the train carries them to the heart of Europe.
"You are an evil old woman!" He shouts at her, at one point. "The member of an extinct species!"
"And you..?" She quietly retorts, "How long do you think you will last?"
It remains a pertinent question. For if Frau Messner represents both the darkness and the richness of Europe's past, then Peter represents the corporate, lego-block banality of its present. "You have success," the old lady tells him, "but you don't really care about anything...."
In an interview which is included in the "Featurette" on this DVD, Peggy Ashcroft describes Frau Messner as "a monster"; but if so then it is a mark of her achievement as an actress that she can invest this monster with such qualities of humanity and even vulnerability that you end up empathising - even sympathising - with her. Michael Kitchen is no inconsiderable actor, but it is Peggy Ashcroft's tour-de-force as Frau Messner which dominates the film.
The DVD includes interviews with writer Stephen Poliakoff and other cast members. Poliakoff and producer Kenith Trodd also provide a spoken commentary to accompany the film.