mon 17/06/2024

The Railway Children Return review - honourable wartime sequel | reviews, news & interviews

The Railway Children Return review - honourable wartime sequel

The Railway Children Return review - honourable wartime sequel

A thoughtful update welcomes back Jenny Agutter, but misses the original's magic

I spy: Lily (Beau Gadson), Ted (Zac Cudby), Thomas (Austin Haynes) and Pattie (Eden Hamilton)Photos courtesy of STUDIOCANAL - Jaap Buitendijk

You can’t simulate nostalgia, or the dusting of urgent magic which made The Railway Children so immediately poignant. Lionel Jeffries wrote and directed the 1970 film with the same special affinity for vintage childhoods he showed in his heart-piercing ghost story The Amazing Mr Blunden (1972).

It was his emotional investment which made generations unquestioningly sympathise with the film’s privileged family fallen on hard times – a standby of middle-class children’s literature revived as recently as Mary Poppins Returns.

That belated sequel proved you can better a beloved original, and poured on emotion at the passing of time. The Railway Children Return isn’t so ambitious, and doesn’t attempt Jeffries’ ineffable wonder, so can’t match its inspiration on its own terms. Screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst is instead schooled in harder-edged, contemporary work (Shameless, Clocking Off), and director Morgan Matthews is mainly a documentarist.Sheridan Smith and Jenny Agutter in The Railway Children ReturnThis sequel – put together by producer Jemma Rodgers – updates the story of displaced children with three sibling evacuees from wartime Salford, who are met in the familiar Yorkshire haven of Oakworth by Bobbie (Jenny Agutter, who played Bobbie in 1968’s BBC serial and 1970, and her mum for ITV in 2000). “Do you remember arriving, Mum?” her daughter Annie (Sheridan Smith, pictured above left with Agutter) asks. “Like it was yesterday,” Bobbie breathes.

Beau Gadson is excellent in the Bobbie role of older sister Lily Watts, rangy, scrappy, intelligent, and bravely protecting her sibling charges and anyone else who comes under her wing. During running battles with local bullies in the railyard, the Watts stumble on Abe (KJ Aikens, pictured below right, gently charismatic), a black teen GI on the run from US Military Police, after the latter’s assault on black soldiers fraternising with white women in a local pub. Seeing the MPs’ behaviour for herself, Lily decides to help his railway getaway.

Bar a late, mirroring attempt to stop a train, this sequel is more invested in its own story than hitting nostalgic nerves. Agutter is really just a welcome, authenticating cameo, there for adults’ reassurance, like Tom Courtenay’s Uncle Walter, the former Billy Liar looking somehow boyish again aged 85.Beau Gadson, Austin Haynes, Zac Cudby, Eden Hamilton and KJ Aikens in The Railway Children ReturnA 2021 BBC radio sequel, The Saving of Albert Perks, had Bernard Cribbins’ ageing stationmaster taking in Kindertransport refugees, and Brocklehurst also finds contemporary relevance in the Forties. He doesn’t conjure the time in the way Jeffries appeared to for 1905, Smith’s sentence-ending “yeah?” the most glaring contemporary tic. But The Railway Children Return is for current kids, not nit-picking adults, and outweighs such faults by usefully complicating our wartime reverence.

Abe’s plight was based on real incidents such as Lancashire’s 1943 Battle of Bamber Bridge, and the contradiction of the USA’s racist segregation while leading the West’s fight against Nazism – like the European Allies’ empires and dependence on evil Stalin – deserves questioning. Anyone suffering from anti-woke allergies can also rest easy. This sequel’s children reflect its modern audience in a wholly unforced way, as black and white, working- and middle-class, rural and urban kids realistically meet to enrich a decade usually remembered more narrowly.

The Railway Children Return combines its resonant new story with an innocent adventure in the spirit of the Children’s Film Foundation. 1970’s aching potency isn’t repeated. But this thoughtful sequel should inspire fond new cinemagoing memories this summer.

This sequel’s children reflect its modern audience in a wholly unforced way


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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