The Railway Children Return
17 Jul 2022
Daniel Brocklehurst, Jemma Rodgers
Jenny Agutter, Sheridan Smith, Beau Gadsdon, Austin Hayes, Kenneth Aikens
When the Railway Children was released in 1970 the adjectives poured like water from a tap. Charming, evocative and heart-warming could have been invented for this classic directed by Lionel Jeffries and starring Jenny Agutter. A touch over half a century later the sequel finally arrives on the big screen. Like the original it's a love letter to a bygone age and radiates with goodness. The key elements have been retained as the story picks up during the Second World War. The logical reference point alights on evacuees arriving in the village of Oakworth from a bomb damaged Manchester.
Bobbie (Jenny Agutter) is now in middle age and a grandmother. Her daughter Annie (Sheridan Smith) is the school headmistress and together they form a welcoming party at the picturesque station. However, the excitement of city kids seeing the countryside is tempered by a harsh new reality. As local residents are prompted to make a choice three siblings are left behind because people cannot feed three mouths. Led by eldest sibling Lily (Beau Gadsdon) they vow to stay together. Predictably Bobbie convinces Annie to take them in. Grandson Thomas (Austin Hayes) welcomes the company of new playmates as they quickly adapt to country life. The children begin to explore local railway tracks and find US serviceman Abe (Kenneth Aikens) hiding in a disused railway carriage. Abe has deserted amidst racial tensions and harsh treatment from the Military Police. But how will the children react to this new discovery?
With the basic ingredients it's difficult to get this film wrong. Director Morgan Matthews uses the spectacular West Yorkshire landscape and hopelessly romantic aura of steam trains to great effect. Added to a wholesome story of children finding friendship and teaching the adults a thing or two along the way, it feels like a comfortable armchair. The army-treating-black-recruits-like-the-enemy storyline has appeared many times before, so doesn't break any new ground. But then again it doesn't need to as there are recurring themes in all period dramas. As a coherent piece it finds its range very quickly and draws strong performances from a highly talented cast. Jenny Agutter provides continuity while Sheridan Smith ensures familiarity; but it's the kids that really stand out in this film, particularly Beau Gadsdon, who delivers a strong performance as the vulnerable and stubborn Lily.