Headed by John Grierson, the UK General Post Office Film Unit’s primary objective was to make films that boosted the morale of and support for the GPO’s workers. Night Mail was the organization’s most successful project. The film details the process of mail delivery via train between London and Glasgow, with special emphasis placed on the efforts of the hard working individuals who make it happen. During the final minutes, footage of a locomotive moving through the pastoral British countryside is accompanied by a score by Benjamin Britten and a poem by W.H. Auden.
Night Mail can be (and is) considered a major point in the development of documentary form. John Grierson, who was inspired by Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North, is said to have coined the term “documentary,” as well as one of its handiest definitions: “The creative treatment of actuality.” For all of Night Mail‘s realism, the priority is always to make a work that is visually engaging while also being informative and showing the GPO in a positive light. It’s certainly not often that a film goes so out of its way to make mail delivery seem noble and downright majestic.
— Garret Kriston