Produced just in time to be screened under the banner of the late–1950s ‘Free Cinema’ documentary movement, Enginemen records the life and work of engine workers in a locomotive shed just outside Manchester. At the time of British Railways’ changeover from steam to diesel, the film explores their sense of loss and frustration with poetry and compassion, but shorn of sentimentality.
Completed with the help of a small grant from the British Film Institute, it was the first film produced by Unit Five Seven, a collective of young Granada Television technicians led by 22–year–old Michael Grigsby – later a major figure in TV documentary – filming at weekends over 18 months with little more than a 16mm camera and a tape recorder.
Like earlier Free Cinema films by the likes of Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson, Enginemen employs an impressionist disconnection between what we hear and what we see, shunning voice–over commentary. For instance, as the camera pans across the canteen room, focusing on the men’s bewildered faces, we hear some of them describing how they feel about the coming of diesel engine with a hint of nostalgia.