Luxury travel specialist Belmond has revealed its newest project, a collaboration with the American film director Wes Anderson. The result is a restored and renewed carriage in Belmond’s British Pullman train, enhanced and upgraded to create a window into Anderson’s world. 

The Cygnus carriage is pulled by Belmond’s British Pullman

The train carriage is a classic cinematic space. Perfectly shaped to frame a static shot, it provides a backdrop for all the conventions of drama, while still allowing a landscape to unspool behind the action to advance the plot and the protagonists’ journey.

Few contemporary filmmakers better understand the conventions and language of film than Wes Anderson. The director’s latest film, The French Dispatch, his tenth full-length feature, looks set to contain the checklist of visual and stylistic eccentricities that have become synonymous with his work. The railway carriage is a favourite device of Anderson – the elaborately constructed sets for his 2007 film The Darjeeling Limited were built aboard a real Indian Railways train, overseen by production designer Mark Friedberg. Every Anderson interior gets a similar level of forensic detail, from submarines to townhouses, to magazine offices and hotels. 

Wes Anderson creates movie-worthy carriage for British Pullman train

The newly restored and renewed British Pullman Cygnus carriage

The newly restored Cygnus carriage is one of a set of bespoke carriages that makes up the Belmond British Pullman train. Carefully reimagined and meticulously crafted, the carriage is a 1950s original that was once reserved for use by visiting heads of state.

The British Pullman’s collection of classic luxury carriages come from various stages of early 20th-century railway history; all have suitably glamorous histories and quirky names (Cygnus is joined by Audrey, Gwen, Ibis, Lucille, Ione, Minerva, Perseus, Phoenix, Vera and Zena). 

Wes Anderson in the newly restored and renewed British Pullman Cygnus carriage
Filmmaker Wes Anderson in the Cygnus carriage that he helped reimagine for the British Pullman train

Anderson was delighted by Belmond’s invitation to work on Cygnus. ‘I love trains! I have often had the chance to invent train compartments and carriages in my movies – so I was immediately pleased to say yes to this real-life opportunity,’ he says.

‘[I was] very eager to make something new while also participating in the process of preservation which accompanies all the classic Belmond train projects.’

Newly restored and renewed British Pullman Cygnus carriage

Unashamedly old-school in style and glamour, Cygnus runs with the theme of a swan, heralded by the swan-shaped champagne coolers, which could easily be a prop from an Anderson production. The motif is carried through to the marquetry panelling of stylised clouds and waves, all reflected in the silver-leaf ceiling. The pattern and colours on the upholstery and curtains evoke the ‘out of time’ feeling of many of Anderson’s films, with their quasi-real, heightened settings and themes.

As with all the carriages on the British Pullman, Cygnus can be booked for a day excursion with dining, leaving from London’s Victoria railway station. The carriage also contains two private ‘coupés’, for what the company describes as an ‘elevated guest experience’ for up to four people. Or you can go the whole hog and hire the entire carriage for up to 26 people. 

Newly restored and renewed British Pullman Cygnus carriage

Anderson’s aesthetic has bled into the mainstream, with any highly stylised or seemingly contrived arrangement of objects or architecture collected under the popular ‘accidental Wes Anderson’ meme.

In truth, the love of symmetry, framing, and distinctive colour palettes, as well as typographic and fine art elements that permeates all his films, is the result of an intense and close collaboration with a tireless and dedicated production design team. Anderson creates a cinema of contrivance, not verité, shaping a heightened sense of reality that is perfectly expressed within the swan theme of the Cygnus carriage.  

Newly restored and renewed British Pullman Cygnus carriage

Belmond’s senior vice president of brand and marketing, Arnaud Champenois, is delighted with the collaboration’s synergy with the British Pullman experience. ‘It has been a privilege to work with Wes Anderson, who is one of the most captivating storytellers in the world and a true legend,’ he says. ‘We are always seeking new ways to remain relevant and create new legendary adventures. It is our mission to keep travel dreams alive by collaborating with the most creative talents, who share our passion for design and craftsmanship.’

As for Anderson, it has been a chance to create a living set piece, an otherworldly, beautifully staged place where people can spend some time. ‘Belmond is keeping something special alive – igniting this endangered species of travel into a new golden era,’ the director says. All aboard. §