Model Rail (UK)
Railway Children – all grown up
The sad news of the death of Bernard Cribbins, Mr Perks in the 1970 movie
The Railway Children, came just 24 hours after my grandchildren had taken me to see the eagerly awaited sequel, The Railway Children Return.
It was his stellar performance and Lionel Jeffries’ masterful direction, which had made the original movie the perennial classic that it now is.
I would not normally write a film review, but as I have an ‘O’ gauge layout based on the original movie and I’m known as a big Jenny Agutter fan, I am going to pen a few words.
I will try to avoid ‘spoilers’ relating to the story itself, which is very much for a 2020s audience rather than the 1970s audience of the original. It is, however, that 1970s audience which is likely to take particular interest in the sequel, so having the only screening at 3pm, as the Odeon, Kettering did, will immediately put the movie at a box office disadvantage.
For that modern audience the story comes forward 39 years from the 1905 setting of the original, to wartime in 1944 and the evacuation of children from the cities to the countryside. Three children from Salford are lodged at the home of grandmother ‘Bobbie’, Jenny Agutter reprising her role from the original movie. When the children explore the railway yard at Oakworth station they find a deserter from the US Army, sleeping rough in a brake van.
Lets clear the railway authenticity first. Salford station is ‘played’ by Keighley and the kids depart behind ‘Jubilee’ Bahamas. There are some brief appearances of maroon Mk 1 coaches and the ‘Jubilee’ and ‘4F’ 0‑6‑0 have very obvious LMS vinyls over their BR logos. An American troop train is headed by a USATC ‘S160’ 2‑8‑0. Given the constraints of filming on a single‑track preserved railway, the authenticity is as good as it can be.
Continuity from the original movie was more of an issue, as far as I was concerned. The house above the railway at Oxenhope which served as the Three Chimneys in the original was such an important feature and its location was core to the story. It has been modernised since the 1970s, with white UPVC window frames and would, I’m guessing, have been unsuitable for a 1940s setting.
So, although it is not referred to in the script, the family home is now the Brontë Parsonage Museum, which was Dr Forrest’s home in the original. Some careful editing suggests the field between the house and the railway as before but the presence of Haworth’s distinctive and very ‘crowded’ churchyard so close to the house is overwhelming. I could not escape the conclusion that ‘Bobbie’ and family had moved house, into town.
I was pleased to see that there’s no walking in the ‘four foot’ and that trespass is confined to the less obvious intrusions into rolling stock in Oakworth yard. However, that care to avoid conveying wrong impressions to modern audiences is lost in the ‘last reel’. To say more would spoil the climax. If you watch it, you’ll draw your own conclusions.
To sum up, it’s not the worst sequel ever but I don’t think I’ll be buying the DVD and re‑watching it frequently, as I have done with the original.