Film review: journey resumes for old classic

October 11, 2023

LMS Jubilee Class no. 45596 Bahamas steam engine: photo by Max

Exposure’s autistic author, Max Ferreira reviews sequel of beloved film and how young people like him connect to it

Over the last few years I’ve checked out some interesting films like Mrs Doubtfire, Paddington and Turning Red. What I like about them is the stories, the characters, the concepts and more importantly the hidden messages we can take with us in life.

Out of those films there’s one title that caught my attention the most. It’s called The Railway Children Return. See trailer below.

Firstly I watched the 1970 Lionel Jeffries film The Railway Children, based on the novel by author Edith Nesbit. It’s about three Edwardian children (Bobbie, Phyllis and Peter) moving to the Yorkshire countryside with their mother. To me it’s a colourful and enchanting film, not because it featured trains (which I love) but because it focuses on the adventures of the children, since their father was mysteriously taken away.

StudioCanal announced in 2021 that there was going to be a sequel to the film, using the same location but with new characters in a different time period, titled The Railway Children Return. When it came out I was keen to check it out in the cinema.

The sequel tells the story of  three children Lily (Beau Gadsdon), Pattie (Eden Hamilton) and Ted (Zac Cudby) being evacuated from Manchester by train to the countryside of Oakworth during a dark days of World War II.

Upon arrival they go to stay with Bobbie Waterbury (Jenny Agutter), along with her daughter, Annie (Sheridan Smith) and grandson, Thomas (Austin Haynes).

The film’s production team wanted to showcase the drama, humour and curiosity into the sequel, while keeping the spirit of the source material

Once settled, the children are playing hide and seek in the railway yard when they find an injured African-American solider, Abe (KJ Aikens) hiding in a brake van. Appreciating that being in the army was not the right choice for him, they decide to help Abe in his mission to go back home to New York.

According to actress Jenny Agutter, from an article in The Railway Magazine, “I was pleased when I read the script, loved the adventures of these new Railway Children, and saw the way the new story reflected the elements of Nesbit’s book and Lionel Jeffries’ film. By playing Bobbie again, there was a very particular link to Lionel’s film, and I felt it was important to know what her character has been doing in the intervening years.”

The film’s production team, like writer Danny Brocklehurst, producer Jemma Rodgers and director Morgan Matthews wanted to showcase the drama, humour and curiosity of the original story in the sequel, while also keeping the spirit of the source material.

Jenny Agutter might be the only actor reprising her role but I think The Railway Children Return packs enough references to the original, as well as substitutions, to show how time has changed whilst keeping things fresh and different.

The most sensitive scenes in the film are when young people are shown being mistreated in the military

For example, when the train stops at Oakworth Station in the trailer, instead of Albert Perks (Bernard Cribbins) from the original, we see his grandson, Richard Perks (John Bradley) in his place as station porter. And when Bobby shows Lilly, Pattie and Ted into the family home she reminisces about her journey to the countryside for the first time with her siblings.

There were some sweet scenes, like Lilly, Pattie and Ted bonding with Thomas. There are also sad moments, like their father’s departure to fight in the war. The most sensitive scenes are when young people are shown being mistreated in the military that lead to Abe wanting to escape.

To me, watching these scenes illustrates how badly vulnerable young people were being treated at the time, due to being different and through lack of understanding.

As a young person with autism, which is  a lifelong developmental learning disability, I can understand how young people like myself go through tricky challenges in life, depending on our background, requirements and social settings.

I learnt that it’s never a good idea to bottle our true feelings and pretend everything’s alright especially from other people who may have gone through similar situations

At present I am grateful to acknowledge these issues are being addressed with facilities and organisations, like for example the National Autistic Society.

Overall, I found The Railway Children Return an entertaining sequel to the original 1970 classic packed with charm, determination, emotion and self-awareness.

I learnt that it’s never a good idea to bottle our true feelings and pretend everything’s alright, especially from other people who may have gone through similar situations.

One day I would like to visit the actual railway where they filmed both The Railway Children and The Railway Children Return (Keighley and Worth Valley Railway). But I have at least seen the steam engine (LMS Jubilee Class no. 45596 Bahamas – see photo above) from the movie’s poster, passing my local station.

Railways might be a niche topic for young people like myself, but when used in movies or TV shows they can provide adventure and excitement, whether stories are set in reality or fantasy, and in any time period. A good example is the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films.

I highly recommend The Railway Children Return and you can watch it, along with the original The Railway Children on a two disc DVD pack from Amazon.

Now working in retail, Max Ferreira is a creative author. A regular at Exposure, his autism helps him develop special creative ideas. He has published a series of stories about his experiences with autism available on Kindle.