The Railway Children is one of the best-loved family films made in 1970 and directed by actor Lionel Jeffries; it has stood the test of time and is often screened on TV for a new generation to enjoy. Based on the novel by E. Nesbit, the story has been remade several times, and now we have a sequel, The Railway Children Return, a new adventure to try and capture the magic of that original film. While the movie has been made by those who love that classic, it never comes close to the joy of Jeffries’ masterpiece.
It’s 1944, and children are being evacuated from the perils of the war. Lily, Patty and Ted have found themselves in Oakworth, a small Yorkshire village where Bobby Waterbury and her daughter, the school headmistress Annie, decide to take them in. Along with Annie’s son, Thomas, the children find adventure in the space around the railway station, where they discover Abe McCarthy, a 14-year-old, hiding from the US Army, where he was being bullied due to the colour of his skin.
Morgan Matthews, who directed the underrated X+Y and the documentary Williams, skillfully captures the period and the feelings the young evacuees face. The station at Oakworth, the setting for the first film, hasn’t changed and that sense of nostalgia comes flooding back. The film also follows some of the rifts of the original in its storytelling: the youngsters arriving in a foreign place and finding a helpless individual. Even using painted signs to stop a train (alas, no red petticoats were used this time).
Unfortunately, the storytelling is weak and lacks the first film’s magic. It tries to update its tale and add a message about the treatment of black soldiers during the war but being a family offering, it doesn’t have the guts to go for the throat politically. It also fails to ignite the children’s plight of being abandoned in a strange place. But, of course, you never once feel they are lost and alone but seem to fit in perfectly with their surroundings.
What the film really lacks is an emotional heart. How many of you who saw the original movie were in floods of tears by the end? Well, you never get close to feeling anything for these characters. At this point, you praise the wonderment of Lionel Jeffries’s film and understand how to deliver characters you genuinely care for.
The performances are perfectly fine. Jenny Agutter returns to play the role of Bobby, the same character that made her famous in the 1970 film, only now she’s no longer a child but a grandmother, and while it’s nice to see her back, she’s given very little to do. Sheridan Smith has fun as Annie, Bobby’s daughter, gets to show some emotion as she deals with the new children and a husband lost in the war. The children do a good job, but I doubt they will be as fondly remembered as the original cast.
The Railway Children Return is made with love and affection but lacks real depth, emotion or characters to care about. Old-fashioned filmmaking is acceptable compared to modern family fare, but I doubt it will be taken to heart as much as The Railway Children is.
3 out of 5
Director: Morgan Matthews
Starring: Jenny Agutter, Sheridan Smith, Tom Courtenay, John Bradley, Beau Gadsdon, Kenneth Aikens, Austin Haynes, Eden Hamilton, Zac Cudby
Written by: Daniel Brocklehurst, Jemma Rodgers, (based on characters created) E. Nesbit and (based on characters from the film “The Railway Children”) Lionel Jeffries.
Running Time: 95 mins
Release date: 15th July 2022