Eye For Film >> Movies >> Terminus (1961) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
A snapshot of the activity in Waterloo Station and, by extension, of Britain at a pivotal time in its cultural history, Terminus is a curious little film with a lot going on. Some of it has been rendered comedic by time - the prim businessmen and sullen housewives strutting around in their various versions of British national dress, the assorted species of nun trying to make their way through crowds and narrow doors whilst wearing elaborate headgear - but it's Schlesinger's observational skill that really gives it its edge.
For its time, Terminus portrays a world that is remarkably diverse. Everybody is using the station, regardless of their social status. A homeless woman searches through the bins for something to eat. A small boy who has lost his mother sits on his suitcase and cries. A well dressed man slams his fists angrily against a platform gate which has just been closed. Jamaican workers, part of the recent influx persuaded to immigrate and solve the country's labour shortage, stream out of carriages. Soldiers arrive in another, one of them throwing his arms around a woman and small child. It's just after the end of conscription but conscripts are still serving and these men could be returning from one of several wars. their presence emphasises that this is not only a national meeting point but an international one.
Much enlivened by Ron Grainer's dramatic yet somehow never inappropriate music, Terminus easily rises above the bulk of location-based documentary made in the period. In a decade obsessed with recording the processes of industry, its uses its setting to explore the behaviour of humans in that system and to identify the humanity in the midst of the mechanical. At first it's observed as if from the crowd, but gradually Schlesinger's camera pulls back, letting us see the patterns hidden by all that individuality. What seemed chaotic a close quarters now looks graceful and orderly as an ants' nest or a flock of birds. Lives intersect but never collide. We get glimpses of individual stories but the focus is on the whole.
An interesting curiosity for fans of Schlesinger's dramatic work, this film plays upon many of the same themes. It's also an intriguing piece in its own right and, for those with an interest in 20th century history, well worth tracking down.