Love the praise heaped on Michael Kitchen in filmycks.com’s review of Caught on a Train:
The two leads turn in powerhouse performances, possibly the finest of their respective careers. Ashcroft may have been the flashier but for Kitchen to craft such a complex creation as Peter out of rather simple material, marked him as one of the finest actors of his generation. Notoriously media-shy he has spent most of his career within television and exemplary as his work has been, his relative absence from the big screen is certainly cinema’s loss. To get a sense of his talent, one only has to view a brief moment within a single scene in Caught on a Train. After Peter’s initial meeting with Messner, she plays upon her age and frailty and asks if he will go and buy some magazines from a vendor. It will mean leaving the train (which is still stationary at Ostend) and Peter has no intention of doing so. Consequently, he begins to equivocate and invent various excuses as to why he shouldn’t. Messner bats each of these away (‘It is only a short distance, you won’t even have to run’) and when it looks like he will have no choice but to acquiesce, a station guard’s whistle is heard. Peter believes he is saved from the task because the whistle indicates the train is about to leave. However, just before he can inform Messner another passenger states that the whistle isn’t for their train much to the chagrin of Peter. The moment lasts barely a second and yet within this screen-time Kitchen displays relief, then triumph, then fury. The complexity and skill in conveying so much in an instant, reveals a major talent at work.
His facial expressions in the last two frames are pretty terrific as well.
The moving last scene in which Peter ultimately feels a connection to Frau Messner despite her being worlds apart from him and, as he puts it, “a member of a nearly extinct species.” She may be the biggest pain in the neck he has ever met, but he is inexplicably drawn to her and will not soon forget their chance encounter.
The last scene, where he’s looking at her with a smile on his face, then the smile magically, impeccably fades is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen on film. I’ve watched it over and over, it’s seamless.
From the London Times, Oct. 31,1980:
At one level, the essential one I think, Stephen Poliakoff’s play Caught on a Train (BBC2, 9:30) is a study in domination: ageing Viennese lady, autocratic and irritating, turns young British publishing public relations man into a reluctant lackey during a troubled train journey from Ostende to West Germany. The two roles are splendidly played by Peggy Ashcroft, sporting an impeccable foreign accent, and Michael Kitchen who executes an infinite number of variations on the theme of distaste. Theirs is an unsatisfactory relationship, but such is Mr. Poliakoff’s ingenuity in setting it against a background of lovelessness and violence, that it gradually develops into something which remotely resembles affection.
(Image: Radio Times, Jan. 18, 1981)
Speaking of celebrated writers I personally don’t get, here’s an audio clip from the Harold Pinter radio play, Family Voices (1981), that reunited Michael Kitchen and Peggy Ashcroft just a year after their wonderful collaboration in Caught on a Train. MK’s character describes in letters to his mother his bizarre experiences living in a rooming house, including having tea with a girl who juggles a stray bread bun between her toes while her feet are in his lap. 😕
When he lights up, Peter once again finds himself locking horns with Frau Messner. Having stood his ground on the seat assignment, he eventually decides to give in to her demands here. Michael Kitchen dripping with sarcasm cracks me up.