The Railway Children Return – a charming and touching treat

The Railway Children Return (PG), (98 mins), Cineworld Cinemas

The Railway Children Return
The Railway Children Return

The sequel to The Railway Children is absolutely everything you’d want it to be: warm, winning, gushingly nostalgic, beautifully acted and thoroughly engaging from first to last. It tugs at the heart strings; it’s genuinely moving; and it comes with a powerful message about somehow finding the courage to do the right thing.

And just to acknowledge that we and everything else have moved on since the original more than half a century ago, it also feels rather edgier – though along the way it loses a fair amount of the plausibility that the original pretty much managed to cling on to.

This time round we are in war-time, and siblings – Lily (Beau Gadsdon), Pattie (Eden Hamilton) and Ted (Zac Cudby) – have been evacuated from bombed-out Salford to the quiet countryside where you can actually see the hens that squeeze out the eggs you eat and where, just as in the original, ripping adventure is never terribly far away.

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    The trio deliberately evoke Bobbie, Phyllis and Peter, the original Railway Children from the 1970 film – so much so that it’s completely appropriate that the only family willing to take them in is headed by the first film’s Bobbie, Jenny Agutter, now a grandmother and mother to the headteacher of the local school. And it’s not long before the evacuees find a cause, just as Bobbie herself did in her youth. In an abandoned railway carriage they tumble upon a young American soldier who, like them, is far away from home. He’s wounded and vulnerable – and he spins them a yarn: he is on a top secret mission. More to the point perhaps, he is black – and has been cruelly abused by his fellow soldiers and by the US Military Police.

    Which is where it all gets a little bit difficult to swallow. The US army enforcement officers are seemingly running the village as their own little police state. They think nothing of viciously beating up a black American soldier on the street (a true incident, apparently); but they raid ye olde English pub; and they think nothing of stopping a train and searching it. How much of this would have been possible without the full and active co-operation of the Brit authorities? Do the writers go a little far with their licence, you wonder.

    But at least it all leads, maybe slightly fairy tale like, to a sweet and satisfying conclusion – one that with pleasing predictability involves holding up home-made banners and stopping a train. The result – it is ruining nothing to say – is justice, and that’s what sends you home happy.

    We are almost certainly not going to be speaking about this sequel in 50 years time in the way we do the original. In quality it probably doesn’t really come close, but it is charming, it is beautifully made, and the young actors are terrific, especially Beau Gadsdon as a Lily capturing so much of the original Bobbie (who went on to become a suffragette, it’s hardly a surprise to learn). The Railway Children Return is also about our memories returning, and if you’ve recently mugged up on the original, there are scores of clever little allusions to savour en route. But best of all, despite its implausibilities, The Railway Children Return is a film which movingly reminds us that a little kindness, a little decency and a little determination go a long, long way.