The Railway Children Return follows some 52 years after the 1970 movie, The Railway Children, and when first announced, it was most notable for the fact that it brings back one of the original cast in Jenny Agutter as Roberta ‘Bobbie’ Waterbury, now a grandma.
However, you might not know Ms Agutter has been in not two Railway Children ventures, but FOUR! The other two are the 1968 BBC series where she effectively played the same character, but as Roberta Faraday, and in 2000, as another version of the original story, for BBC’s Masterpiece Theatre, in the role of Mother.
But on with the plot. It’s now 1944, and due to World War II, many children are being evacuated from major cities to the country in order to be protected from the dropping of Nazi bombs, the invasion of Hitler drawing a parallel with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in current times, so it has very chilling comparisons with that.
However, when you get to Oakworth railway station – which I’ve since learned first opened in 1867, was closed in 1962, then reopened in 1968 – you have to be chosen by those looking to take children in. Yes, there’s no ridiculous Tory application system going on, here. As such, trio Lily Watts (Beau Gadsdon), with siblings Pattie (Eden Hamilton) and Ted (Zac Cudby), end up living with school headmistress Annie (Sheridan Smith – No Return, The Teacher), who’s the daughter of Bobbie.
Yes, war is hell, and if you need someone who’s going to cry on cue, it’s Sheridan Smith!
The children have come from Salford to the country, yet Annie’s son, Thomas (Austin Haynes), mocks them for their Northern accents, despite the fact that both he, and this film’s Perks, Richard Perks (John Bradley – Moonfall) – presumably related to Bernard Cribbins’ character from the original, yet neither he, nor the surname, is ever mentioned – also are both Northern. The lad is from Leeds, while Bradley is from Wythenshawe. Maybe, following Moonfall director Roland Emmerich’s 2012, the North and South poles shifting led to Manchester being moved to Oakworth?
There’s good acting from the kids, even if the scripting is a bit simple, such as the basics of dealing with other school bullies, and when they chance upon injured American soldier Abe (KJ Aikens) – who’s escaping from Military Police – the racism he encounters feels more like a lecture than a plot point.
Lily is a bit of a tomboy type, who gives as good as she gets, while when Ted is asked to introduce himself to Annie, he chirps, “Adolf!”, so there’s a fair bit of humour where it counts.
I also had a good laugh from Thomas’ comment about how there’s no tramps in the country, and Lily states that in Manchester, there’s loads! That’s so true, and still happening. Of course, you can tell they’re all genuine, because they all sit right outside cash machines.
One thing that annoyed me, and this is to do with all cinemas I’ve come across, is that nowhere was showing a double-bill of both films. Okay, so the original was shown around 3 weeks ago as a standalone film as a one-off, on the same Sunday as the London Royal Premiere, but while it would’ve been great to see it on the big screen, it was around 10am that morning, so way too early, and even still, putting them back-to-back would’ve felt more fitting.
I did like that there’s some elements of the original, such as painting a sign to alert a train driver about something I won’t reveal; and it also doesn’t attempt to wholesale rip-off the first film, something from which 2018’s Mary Poppins Returns could learn a tip or two.
If you haven’t seen the original movie, then it is on BBC iPlayer for four weeks from today, but I would still have liked to have seen it on the big screen, and at a decent time of day. What a shame.
Now, will we get another sequel in another 52 years, making that 2074? I doubt I’ll be around to see it. Not in this life, anyway.
Oh, and as an aside, when I bought a ticket, and named the film, the guy behind the till said in surprise, “*RAILway Children?!”, as if instead, he was expecting me to ask for Driller Killer Returns(!) 😀
And for another aside, this is the first time I’ve ever come out of a film and been asked to use a tablet device to complete a survey based on the film I’d just seen, with basic questions like asking if I’d recommend it, and why I went to see it, one option being if it was for a particular cast member. There was no place to state who that would be, but… Jenny Agutter, obvs!
Another option in that section was “It was showing in 3D”. Well, The Railway Children Return is certainly NOT in 3D, and doesn’t need to be.
But when it comes to some major problems about the film… ohhh, we have things to discuss:
- Remember that heart-wrenching scene in the original when Bobbie’s father finally came back at the end of the film, and the moment when she first clapped eyes on him, following the train’s steam clearing?
Well, there are three plot points to conclude at the end of the new film. I won’t go into detail about them, obviously, but when you have a film that’s just a too-short 95 minutes end-to-end, you could have extended this another 15-20 minutes by showing each of these stories panning out, but no…
We just get a piece of text and a still image for each of them(!)
- Despite this film being called The Railway Children Return, only Bobbie returns! Where’s the rest of them? Didn’t they even attempt to contact the others and ask them to come back?
Sally Thomsett is returning to acting, and she later revealed she had to lie about her age in order to get the part for the original movie, stating she was 10, when she was actually 20 at the time of its release. Plus, since national treasure Bernard Cribbins is alive and fighting fit – and his Perks is related to signalman Richard – that’s even more reason to bring him back!
- And do you remember the classic end credits of the original, as the text plays out over the camera on the track, slowly approaching the train, and Bobbie apparently writing in chalk on it while talking to those around her? (It was obvious, the words were already there, and she was just PRETENDING to write them, but anyway) And then as the camera finally stops, for the final scene, she turns the board around to show the words, “THE END”, and says calmly, “Goodbye”.
You remember that? Oh, the feels…
So, I wondered what would we have in store for us with the sequel? Quite frankly: Fuck all.
The picture just fades to black, then shows us a sort of black, swirly mist that I presume is meant to be steam from a train, and the bland white credits text appears over the top of it. Jeez, it’s like someone put it there as a placeholder – to come back to later… and just forgot all about it.
It looks shit. The director should hang his head in shame.
- Oh, and he also should for having brought in a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39:1 to the series. This film will largely be seen on TV for decades to come, and a 1.85:1 ratio would serve it much better. The original was shot in 1.66:1 on 35mm, which will lead to slight black bars at the side, but 1.85:1 is the closest in modern terms, when shooting digitally.
Additionally, you can also pre-order The Soundtrack (albeit digitally), Paperback and Kindle texts, and a Hornby LMS Class 4F No. 43924 – The Railway Children Return – Era 3. Locomotives in Black.
Running time: 95 minutes
Release date: July 15th 2022
Studio: Studio Canal UK
Director: Morgan Matthews
Producer: Jemma Rodgers
Screenplay: Daniel Brocklehurst, Jemma Rodgers
Music: Edward Farmer, Martin Phipps
Roberta ‘Bobbie’ Waterbury: Jenny Agutter
Annie: Sheridan Smith
Richard Perks: John Bradley
Lily Watts: Beau Gadsdon
Pattie Watts: Eden Hamilton
Ted Watts: Zac Cudby
Thomas Waterbury: Austin Haynes
Abraham “Abe” McCarthy: KJ Aikens
Uncle Walter: Tom Courtenay
General Harrison: Hugh Quarshie
Angela: Jessica Baglow
Teacher: Neil Hurst
Rail Passenger: Philip Gascoyne
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.