North West Frontier (film)

North West Frontier (USA: Flame Over India; Australia: Empress of India)[2] is a 1959 British Eastmancolor adventure film starring Kenneth More, Lauren Bacall, Herbert Lom, Wilfrid Hyde-White and I. S. Johar. The CinemaScope film, which was produced by Marcel Hellman, was directed by J. Lee Thompson. It was a commercial success at the British box office in 1959. The film's achievement led to J. Lee Thompson beginning his American career as a director.[3]

North West Frontier
North West Frontier, a 1959 film.jpg
Directed byJ. Lee Thompson
Produced byMarcel Hellman
Written byRobin Estridge
Frank S. Nugent
Patrick Ford
Will Price
StarringKenneth More
Lauren Bacall
Herbert Lom
Wilfrid Hyde-White
I. S. Johar
Music byMischa Spoliansky
CinematographyGeoffrey Unsworth
Edited byFrederick Wilson
Distributed byThe Rank Organisation (UK), 20th Century Fox (USA)
Release date
7 October 1959 (London Premiere)
Running time
129 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom

The film is set in the North West Frontier Province of British Raj (now within modern Pakistan). It explores the ethnic tensions within British India after Muslim rebels attack a fortress and kill a Hindu maharajah.


In 1905 on the North West Frontier of British India, a maharajah asks British Army Captain Scott to take his young son, Prince Kishan, to Haserabad and then send him to Delhi to protect him from an uprising. Accompanying them is the prince's governess, an American widow named Mrs. Wyatt. They leave as the rebels storm the palace and kill the prince's father.

On arrival at Haserabad, Captain Scott sees that many local Hindus and Europeans are leaving on the last train to Kalapur. The Muslim rebels soon close in and take control of the outer wall and gate beside the railway yard. The British governor tells Scott that he must take the young prince to Kalapur for his safety. In the railyard, the British captain discovers the Empress of India, an old engine with carriage cared for by its driver Gupta.

Early the next morning, Captain Scott quietly loads the passengers onto the old train. They include Mrs. Wyatt, Prince Kishan, arms dealer Mr. Peters, British expatriate Mr. Bridie, Lady Windham (the governor's wife), two British Indian Army NCOs, and Dutch journalist Mr. Peter van Leyden. The Empress quietly freewheels down a gradient and out of the yard, but when her whistle is accidentally sounded, Gupta crashes her through the outer gate.

Later that morning, the train encounters a refugee train; everyone on board has been massacred by the rebels. Despite being told not to by Captain Scott, Mrs. Wyatt leaves the Empress and finds one survivor, a baby concealed by his mother's body.

The next morning, the train must stop because a portion of the track has been blown up. Mrs. Wyatt spots the signaling flashes of a heliograph atop a mountain summit, and everyone quickly realises that the Muslim rebels are waiting in the surrounding mountains. With track repairs barely finished by the occupants, the train gets away under a hail of gunfire; Gupta is wounded but survives.

Later that day, while stopping to refill the engine's water tank, Scott walks into the pump house to find Van Leyden allowing Prince Kishan to stand dangerously close to the pump's rapidly spinning flywheel. During the night, Mr. Van Leyden again approaches the prince, only to notice Lady Windham watching him.

The train reaches a bomb-damaged viaduct/bridge. There is nothing under one section of rail except the ground far below. Scott has the others carefully cross that section one by one to lighten the train that will follow them. Finally, only Van Leyden the prince remain behind. Van Leyden seems to endanger the boy, before Scott is able to get him across. Afterward, Scott accuses Van Leyden of trying to kill the prince, and he places the reporter under arrest. After that, Captain Scott, under Gupta's guidance, carefully maneuvers the train across.

Later, while going through a tunnel, Van Leyden uses the opportunity to overpower his guard. He uses a Maxim machine gun to hold the passengers at bay. It is now that he declares his loyalty to the Muslim cause. He is unable to kill Prince Kishnan because the boy is forward with Captain Scott in the locomotive's cab. Scott returns to the carriage with the young prince after spotting more rebel heliograph signals, but they are saved when Van Leyden is knocked off balance by a kick from Mr. Bridie. Scott pursues him onto the carriage roof, but it is Mrs. Wyatt who shoots and kills Van Leyden just as he is about to kill Scott.

The Muslim rebels chase the train on horseback but are thwarted when the Empress enters a two-mile-long hillside tunnel. On the other side, the train reaches the safety of Kalapur. At the station, young Prince Kishan is met by his Hindu entourage, while Gupta is taken to hospital, and Lady Windham is informed that her husband, the governor, is safe. On learning Prince Kishan may yet fight the British, as his father instructed him, Scott quotes Kipling ("Be thankful you're livin', and trust to your luck, And march to your front like a soldier") before he and Mrs. Wyatt leave together.




In 1957, More announced he would play "a romantic adventure" part set during the Indian Mutiny, Night Runners of Bengal.[4] This film was never made and it is likely instead More was transferred to a similar project, North West Frontier.[4] Olivia de Havilland was originally announced as the female lead.[5]


Location scenes filming in India took place at the Amber Fort, in Rajasthan. Some of the rail sequences were shot in southern Spain in the province of Granada. The area's dry arid steppe was used to portray British India. Parts of the railway, which is now abandoned, traversed the northern part of the Sierra Nevada between Guadix and Baza.[6] The bomb-damaged rail bridge that the train must cross is over the Carretera de Belerda (at 37°23′22.82″N 3°11′44.44″W / 37.3896722°N 3.1956778°W / 37.3896722; -3.1956778 (Location of the damaged bridge in the film Northwest Frontier)). The ending used Iznalloz railway station near Barrio Primero De Mayo (at 37°23′45.27″N 3°31′39.75″W / 37.3959083°N 3.5277083°W / 37.3959083; -3.5277083).

An article by Ray Ellis, entitled Railway Films of the Raj, published in the Indian Railway Study Group Newsletter No.9 in January 1993, states:

A large part of this film was shot on location in Spain, on the 1668 mm gauge Zafra-Huelva Railway, of the RENFE. Originally built by a British Company, the line runs parallel with the Spanish-Portuguese border, and has some spectacular bridges and some very Indian looking scenery. The little tank engine used as "Empress of India" is one of four 0-6-0T's that was built by Kerr, Stuart and Company (works nos 713,714,715 & 725) in 1900 for the South of Spain Railway, and later RENFE 030.0209-212. The engine used was modified to look more like a locomotive filmed in India, which included the fitting of 'chopper' couplings.
For filming sequences on the sound stage at Pinewood Studios, London, full size replicas of the locomotive, rolling stock and part of the bridge were constructed, with Pinewood's usual remarkable accuracy.
Some scenes were also filmed in India using metre gauge trains, somewhere near Jaipur. These include the departure of the 'refugee' train and the scenes where the 'escape' train catches up and passes the 'refugee' train. The 'refugee' train is hauled by an OJ class 4-4-0 (built by W. G. Bagnall in 1943) and the 'escape' train is hauled by a TJ class 0-6-0T (built by Bagnell in 1942, and sent to India, despite having been ordered by a steelworks in Turkey!). This later engine was also heavily modified to look more like the modified locomotive used in Spain.


The film was a major hit in the UK, being among the six most popular films in Great Britain for the year ended 31 October 1959.[7]

The film was one of seven made by Rank which were bought for distribution in the US by 20th Century Fox.[8] Lauren Bacall called it a "good little movie ... with a stupid title" (referring to the US title, Flame Over India).[9]

Awards nominationsEdit

Award Category Subject Result
BAFTA Best Film from Any Source[10] J. Lee Thompson Nominated
Best British Film J. Lee Thompson Nominated
Best British Screenplay[11] Robin Estridge Nominated


  • Chibnall, Steve, J. Lee Thompson Manchester University Press, 2000
  1. ^ Chibnall p 204
  2. ^ "Review: Flame over India". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  3. ^ "Northwest Frontier". Time Out. Archived from the original on 7 June 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  4. ^ a b Gwen Morgan (14 July 1957). "Kenneth More-Britain's Best: He's No Matinee Idol, but Film Fans Around the World Love Him". Chicago Daily Tribune.
  5. ^ Hedda Hopper (31 October 1958). "Looking at Hollywood: British Star Herbert Lom Scores Hit in Hollywood". Chicago Daily Tribune.
  6. ^ "Old Railway 2". Archived from the original on 7 March 2009. Retrieved 2 July 2009.
  7. ^ "Four British Films In 'Top 6': Boulting Comedy Heads Box Office List". The Guardian. 11 December 1959.
  8. ^ "Of Local Origin". The New York Times. 7 January 1960.
  9. ^ Howard Thompson (23 February 1964). "New Chapter For A Manhattan Hollywood Queen". The New York Times.
  10. ^ "Film | Film And British Film in 1960". British Academy of Film and Television Arts BAFTA).
  11. ^ "Film | British Screenplay in 1960". BAFTA.

External linksEdit