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21
4.2 out of 5 stars
Caught On A Train [1980] [DVD]
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on 3 March 2004
This, apparently, dated journey on a grubby trans European train will contrast starkly with its modern equivalent. Unless of course you’re a British rail commuter when it will seem bang up to date.
Peter, an arrogant ex public schoolboy, is travelling to a Linz book fair when he meets an American girl and hopes his luck is in. However, things are complicated by the arrival in the same compartment of Frau Messener, an elderly, once upper class, Austrian who matches Peters arrogance and surpasses it with her spoilt demands.
Dame Peggy Ashcroft, whose eyes are far to young for her ageing frame, wonderfully portrays the matriarch of a fallen race. The part of Peter, played by Michael Kitchen, seems to have been written for him. Anyone who travelled in Europe in the 70’s, encountering armed border guards who seem to be in training for the next Reich, will appreciate the undertones of paranoia.
Gritty, atmospheric and delivering a sense of frustration right to the fractured end when we glimpse the potential of empathy between Peter and Frau Messener, but tantalisingly never quite make it. Not everyone’s cup of tea, hence four stars, but never the less a classic Poliakoff.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
This made a big impression on me when I first saw it in the 80s and it was great to find it again. Poliakoff and director Peter Duffel make a number of subtle references to "The Lady Vanishes" and other train-based classics but in this film the corridors are crowded with obnoxious passengers, the staff surly and the officials intimidating. The train and its passengers serve as a metaphor for a Europe still fighting the cold war and living with political extremists from left and right.

The whole contrast between the old order of glamorous travel for a privileged few and the new one of near anarchy is played out between Michael Kitchen and Peggy Ashcroft's characters. It is the character development rather than the twists of the plot that are the strong points of the movie. This would have been 5 stars but some people might be lulled by the background into expecting some kind of who-done-it. If you are willing simply enjoy the great acting and direction then this is a must-see.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 9 January 2010
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.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 4 February 2009
A nightmare journey with impossible traveling companions. This film captures a world of students and unrest as remembered by Stephen Poliakoff where nothing is what it seems to be. Peggy Ashcroft gives a superb performance, one of her finest, while Michael Kitchen as the bewildered trapped fellow traveler is like a fly caught in a web, the relief when he finally leaves the train is shared by us all with a performance of subtly and depth.
The director, Peter Duffell, catches the essence of the claustrophobic journey and reveals that even more open spaces you can still be trapped by events.
A brilliant story that unfolds and slowly draws you along on this amazing train journey. For all lovers of English drama and English acting at its best.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 11 November 2009
A strange romance between an old lady and a young man. A superb film - great character study, striking european-jazz soundtrack, very atmospheric. I hadn't seen it for years, then got back home after some long train journeys through Russia and dug it out of the dvd collection. Is this film dated? Yes, because who could write or film any kind of romance on a modern day train? And if the trains themselves don't destroy human relations then the passengers with their mobiles and music players do. Watch this film to remember what travel could be, when a journey had some excitement about it, even in the seedy down-at-heel glamour of the night train.
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on 17 January 2014
A wonderfully well-written and original play which unfolds gradually and contains many subtle nuances and twists of plot and character. The power-game between the two central characters seems reflected in the disturbed, unpredictable and latently hostile political landscape through which they pass whilst caught (or trapped?) together on their train. The elderly passenger's final proposition is startling and brilliantly played by Ashcroft and Kitchen (who are both outstanding throughout). I saw the play when it was broadcast more than 30 years ago and had always hoped to see it again: I was not disappointed!
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on 3 October 2014
The acting of this story is excellent. The audience is drawn into a complex human situation which is easy to imagine. It is both grim and desperate at times yet lightened with humour. Well done Mr Poliakoff.
Dame Peggy Ashcroft was already one of the 'greats' when this film was made; it is revealing to see the unfolding talent of a young Michael Kitchen who is still a pleasure to watch.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 11 December 2012
Poliakoff plays often leave me cold, but this film was excellent. The young Michael Kitchen and the wonderful Peggy Ashcroft combine to intrigue and amuse the audience. The young man is almost literally hi-jacked by the elderly Austrian lady, and their interactions are brilliant. Thoroughly recommend it to everyone.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
If you think European long-distance trains are the epitome of classy service, perhaps you should see CAUGHT ON A TRAIN, a British dark comedy that has similarities to 1985's AFTER HOURS in that it focuses upon the macabre, nighttime misadventures of the lead character otherwise out of his element.
Peter (Michael Kitchen, very young with lots of hair), a self-absorbed English businessman on his way to Linz, boards the Ostend to Vienna Trans European Express. Peter usually travels by air, but has decided this once to take to the rails just to see what it's like. Big mistake.
At first, the journey looks promising. Peter is to share his six-seat reserved compartment with a very attractive and sexy American girl, Lorraine (Wendy Raebeck). Perhaps they'll have the space to themselves? But that's not to be as other occupants crowd in, including Frau Messner (Peggy Ashcroft), an imperious, impatient, Viennese grand dame who's used to getting her way, and getting it now. She and Peter immediately lock horns as she demands, and he refuses to relinquish, his window seat. Then, Peter almost misses the train's departure as he reluctantly volunteers to make a dash to the station newsstand to get the old lady some magazines for the trip. Their relationship goes from bad to worse to bizarre such that, by the time Peter stumbles off the carriage at his destination, he's exhausted, unshaven, shirtless, mud-spattered, with a torn suit jacket, discomfited, and minus his ticket.
CAUGHT ON A TRAIN isn't a complete success. The potential provided by the Lorraine character goes nowhere for reasons that aren't immediately apparent. Indeed, her presence is such a plot dead end that I felt she should've been left out of the script entirely. The emphasis is, and rightfully should be, entirely on the manic relationship between Peter and Frau Messner, the latter both repelling and fascinating the former.
A further nice touch to the surrealism of the journey is the presence in the car of some violence-prone German rowdies who've apparently made it on board with "standing room only" tickets. (The presence of seatless passengers is still a phenomenon on main corridor European trains, and which results in the nearly impossible passageway overcrowding that I noticed with some irritation on a Frankfurt-Berlin run in 1999. It makes South Eastern Trains look positively luxurious by comparison.)
The reason I'm not awarding more than three stars is that the ending, by which time Peter and his nemesis seem to be he only passengers left on the train (trashed beyond belief - where's the staff?), is curiously unfulfilling. Peter wanders off, perhaps made a little wiser and a better person by the experience, but I wasn't convinced that he was either, or indeed cognizant of why he should be. For me, and for Peter, Frau Messner remained too much of an enigma.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
i watched this at my uni library when i had a couple of hours free and i must say i was totally bowled over. i have never seen a piece of his work that i didnt like and this is no exception, cleverly written, interesting storyline and very real characters, isnt that the basis for any good film??
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