The oldest working standard gauge steam locomotive in Britain stars in Oscar-nominated film "The Invisible Woman" - telling the story of Charles Dickens' secret mistress.
"The Invisible Woman" is directed by and stars Ralph Fiennes as Charles Dickens, and Felicity Jones as his mistress Nelly Ternan.
Central to the plot is the real-life involvement of the pair in the 1865 Staplehurst derailment. A boat train from Folkestone derailed, killing ten people. A gang working to repair the track did not realise the timing of the boat train depended on the time of the tides, so removed a length of rail as the boat train thundered towards them. In addition the driver had not been told there were track works in the area, and the labourer despatched to wave a red flag to protect the work had not walked far enough away to allow the driver sufficient distance to stop.
Dickens was able to climb out of his carriage and tend to dying passengers. He also recovered the manuscript for his book "Our Mutual Friend", which he was working on at the time. The incident affected him deeply and his family said he never truly recovered from it.
Whilst there are no working South Eastern Railway locomotives of the correct era, 1863-built FR Number 20 was ideal for the role hauling the recreated boat train. The location managers chose the Bluebell Railway to shoot the boat train scenes, and to recreate the derailment. The Bluebell line is experienced in welcoming film and TV crews (for example the remade "The Railway Children" was shot there, as are all railway scenes for ITV's "Downton Abbey" and has the advantage of owning a short section of disused branch line where the derailment could be staged without getting in the way of normal heritage railway operation. The Bluebell was also already familiar with FR 20, the veteran having been a star guest there in 2010 to mark 50 years of the preserved line.
Filming took place back in 2012. On the afternoon of Monday, 18th June, FR 20 made its way light engine from Sheffield Park to Horsted Keynes to bring back a period rake of seven wooden bodied coaches ready for the start of filming the following day.
The following day, after the FRT's Alan Middleton and Tim Owen had duly received the attention of the wardrobe and make up departments, they boarded the footplate of FR 20 stood in "Folkestone" (in reality, Sheffield Park station) ready to depart for London. There were numerous takes whilst passengers boarded the train.
The next stage in the filming was to get shots of the "boat train" on the move. To do this, the train with FR 20 attached was hauled backwards to Horsted Keynes after which FR 20 performed two runs down to Sheffield Park for the benefit of the cameras - see the picture at the top of this page - each time being hauled back to Horsted Keynes after the run was completed.
Once this had been achieved, FR 20 and the first coach moved on to the curved Ardingly embankment, down which three replicas of the train’s carriages had been pitched and smashed up to replicate the Staplehurst accident of 9th June 1865. As you can see from the photo, the detail of the replicas was astonishing!
The film set was, to say the least, spectacular, and FR 20 spent the Wednesday and Thursday on top of the embankment whilst actors and extras performed out the outcome of the accident.
Alan and Tim, duly costumed and made up (Alan bearing a very realistic gash on his face - see below) were required to join in with this, showing signs of being aghast at the sight of the wreck of their train and tending to passengers.
The rain came on the Thursday and caused some slithering and sliding by the cast on the increasingly muddy embankment, with Tim doing a spectacular slip in front of the camera, but having to pick himself up as if nothing had happened as the cameras continued to roll!
The film booking was squeezed into an already tight diary for FR20 that summer, falling midway within an extensive tour around the country. FR20 had arrived at the Bluebell fresh from the National Railway Musuem's Railfest 2012. Within just four hours of the words “it’s a wrap” being heard, FR20 had returned to Sheffield Park and been loaded onto a trailer, to travel overnight to Leeds to star in the Middleton Railway's 200 years of steam gala event!
"The Invisible Woman" is released in the UK on 7th February 2014. It's been nominated for the 2014 Oscars for Best Costume Design.
İFurness Railway Trust