The Railway Children Review

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E. Nesbit’s beloved tale of three children shipped off to live in the country beside a railway line with their mother after their father is arrested on mysterious spying charges and they are left penniless. Yet, it proves the making of them, as they disco


A comfortable, prettified adaptation of one of E. Nesbit’s less showy books, i.e. it’s free of fantasy elements but still set amongst the petticoats and tidy manners of Edwardian England. A charming if glassy setting that keeps the film a perennial Christmas favourite. The actor-comedian Lionel Jeffries stays behind the camera, gilding sensitive performances out the three children — interestingly Jenny Agutter’s serious Bobbie was two years younger than “younger” sister Sally Thomset, and, soberingly, both would grow up to be sex symbols — and portraying the healing effect such an idyllic community can have on a troubled family.

The contrast between the Waterbury’s well-heeled London life and the cottagey existence they are forced into following their father’s calamity is, by today’s notions of hardship, not quite the lurch it aims for. Yet, there is the sense of something undone — the children, especially Bobbie, have adulthood and responsibility thrust upon them as their mother sickens and life unravels. Their adventures along the railway sidings (not the beset message to send out to watching kids) skids into heroics as they rescue a schoolboy who breaks his leg on the track, and eventually through an unlikely communication with an old man on a London bound train, find the solution to all their troubles — papa, free again!

It is all a bit a bit far-fetched and sentimental, but delivered with such calm grace by Jeffries with the assistance of cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson, the exaggerations don’t seem to matter. It just looks the piece, an England, green and pleasant, a forgotten realm of pleasantries where total strangers turn into friends rather than threats, and stationmasters are loveable locals. Which, when you think about it, is a whole lot more fantastical than anything Harry Potter dabbles in.

Very dated but still enchanting for a Sunday afternoon over tea and crumpets.