10 Great Train Books and Films

What are the 10 greatest train books and films? Author Eleni Kyriacou picks her favourites, full of romance, passion and mystery.

Railway Books

She Came to Stay, by Eleni Kyriacou

It’s 1952 and Dina arrives at Victoria station. She’s travelled from rural poverty in Cyprus to smoggy London for a bigger, better life. But it’s not that easy. Her mysterious new friend, Bebba, has a past that catches up with them. And along with Dina’s no-good brother, the trio are pulled into a shocking incident at St Pancras. If they’re to escape the gallows they must stick together…but by now they loathe one another.

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, by Patricia Highsmith

Guy and Bruno meet by chance on a train and get talking. Guy hates his wife, Bruno hates his father. They talk about ‘trading’ murders – how clever it would be to murder someone you don’t actually know. No connection, no motive. It’s genius. Only Guy didn’t really mean it…and Bruno did. And once he’s kept his side of the bargain, Bruno insists Guy does the same. A perfect, high-stakes read.

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

Late 19th century and Cora, a slave in the deep South, hears about the underground railroad – a boxcar pulled by a steam train, picking up fugitives wherever it can. She decides to find it and try to escape. The actual Underground Railroad wasn’t a railroad at all, but a network of African American and white people who offered aid and shelter to those escaping slavery. A remarkable book deserving of its 2017 Pulitzer Prize.

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

Rachel sits on the same train every day and stares out of the window. When the train always stops at the same signal point, she watches the same couple through their back window. She feels she almost knows them. But then she sees something. And nobody believes her. Rachel has a drink problem – just how reliable a witness is she? This blockbuster bestseller ramps up the tension perfectly.

The Railway Detective series, by Edward Marston

If you love murder mysteries and Victorian railways, this is for you. In this hugely popular series Detective Inspector Robert Colbeck solves crimes that all take place on trains, starting with the London-Birmingham mail train robbery in 1851 in the eponymously titled first book of the series, right through to the most recent, number 18 in series (Slaughter in the Sapperton Tunnel). All characters are recurring in this action-packed historical series.

Railway Films

Before Sunrise

Cynic Ethan Hawke and idealist Julie Delpy, meet on a train to Vienna, hit it off and spend the evening walking around the city, talking about everything and falling in love. They only have a few hours together, so they say things they might not normally tell a first date, because they don’t think they’ll see each other again. (Yes, there are two sequels, Before Sunset in 2004 and Before Midnight, 2013.)

Brief Encounter

Considered one of the best films of British cinema, Brief Encounter, Noel Coward’s romantic classic stars Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. As strangers, they meet by chance then meet again and again as they bump into each other accidentally, and then deliberately. They’re both married and what begins as platonic turns into something deeper, even though they know their love is hopeless. Filmed at Carnforth railway station in Lancashire, it’s a wonderfully poignant film about love, loss and duty.

Murder on the Orient Express

The old-school glitz ‘n’ glamour version starring Albert Finney includes greats such as John Gielgud, Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman. Murder On The Orient Express is a classic closed-room murder in which everyone is a suspect and takes some beating (the ‘room’ in this case being the gorgeous Simplon Orient-Express). Agatha Christie’s novel has been adapted many times, including Kenneth Branagh’s version (2017). The 1974 film, however, was nominated for six Oscars (Bergman was the only winner).

Shanghai Express

Love, passion and intrigue meet sumptuous deco glamour, in this wonderful star vehicle for Marlene Dietrich who plays Shanghai Lily. Travelling on the Peking to Shanghai Express, she stumbles upon her old love and sets about trying to discover if he still has feelings for her. Directed by Josef von Sternberg (who made seven films with Dietrich), the cinematography is astounding and the sets, costumes and lighting are still breathtaking today. A Sunday afternoon treat.

Mission: Impossible

The first action-packed Mission Impossible in Tom Cruise’s franchise, this one is famous because of the train. Not just any train though, but the Eurostar, which had only been running for a couple of years before the film was released. Cruise fights the baddie for several minutes on the roof and eventually takes him out (of course) whilst racing through the countryside. Worth watching for the amazing stunts.

Win a copy of She Came To Stay

She Came To Stay is out in paperback on 25 February 2021 (Hodder), and also available in ebook and audiobook. We’ve got two copies to give away. Enter here.

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