The Railway Children Return (2022) – Film Review

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Director: Morgan Matthews
Cast: Sheridan Smith, Jenny Agutter, John Bradley
Certificate: PG

By Roger Crow

As a movie-lover living in Yorkshire, there’s such a wealth of cinematic locations on our doorstep that one of my many pending Sunday visits on the to do list was Oakworth Station near Keighley.

And another dream day out was a ride and a cuppa on a steam train. I didn’t think that one day I’d not only mage to tick both boxes, but also meet a dream team of veteran actors and the next generation of rising thesps. But occasionally stars align, and great things happen.

So, at the crack of dawn, Mrs C and I head over to Oakworth, where the masses have assembled for the launch of The Railway Children Return, a sequel to one of the best-loved British films ever made.

In a perfect world of course you’d see the film first and then chat to the cast, but there’s such a wave of good will behind the new movie, that it matters a little less than usual.

And while it’s a thrill to meet Game of Thrones veteran John Bradley, the legend that is Sir Tom Courtenay, and the upcoming actors like Rogue One veteran Beau Gadson, without Jenny Agutter this would have been like a train missing a wheel. We’ve done a few phone interviews in the past, but on a personal level it’s like meeting the queen. (Logan’s Run and An American Werewolf in London are two of my favourite films, so finally chatting to her in person is a dream).

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“Idyllic moments”

But what of the movie?

Well, that does not disappoint either. After taking the steam train to Keighley, a short walk later we’re at the local Picture House, a gorgeous old school cinema, where the stars and creatives assemble on the red carpet. Then we file inside, and after a few speeches, the movie begins.

Original heroine Bobby (Jenny Agutter) is now a grandmother, with schoolteacher daughter Annie (Sheridan Smith) trying to carry on as normal, raising her son, Thomas (Austin Haynes) while her husband is away at war.

When a trio of Salford evacuees expand her family, the scene is set for idyllic moments of bonding in picture-perfect rural Yorkshire locations.

There are echoes of Whistle Down the Wind when a stranger is discovered hiding on a stationary train, and so begins a Black Lives Matter plot as an African-American deserter soldier Abe (KJ Aikens) hides with the kids while we discover he’s on the run from racist, abusive Military Police.

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“Beautifully made”

By the time the third act unfolds, the sight of kids mobilising to protect two integral characters is hugely affecting.

Yes there are nods to the original again, but it’s so well done, I can’t fault it.

While all the young actors are great, Beau Gadson is phenomenal as Lily, the eldest of the refugees. Wise beyond her years, the character lights up the screen in every scene she steals.

Though the credits wrap things up hastily and neatly, it’s still a beautifully made film. Laugh out loud funny, splendid cinematography and editing, while the cast are excellent.

I’m thrilled that I get to meet up with cast and crew again to congratulate them. The movie could so easily have come off the rails, especially trying to tell a new story while paying homage to the original, but it’s a hugely rewarding experience.

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“Perfect family entertainment”

And when I finally get to meet Jenny Agutter and we chat about the film, I tell her: “I think (original director) Lionel Jeffries would have been proud.”

“Yes,” she smiles. “I think he would.”

That would have been the end of a perfect day, but on a personal note, when I say hello to the luminous Sheridan Smith, and introduce the Bafta-winner to her old friend, the one I married, after a 17-year gap, that’s the icing on the cake.

It’s not a perfect movie, no film is. But at a time when great old fashioned movies are in short supply, it’s a heartwarming tale that is perfect family entertainment boasting a solid message and a fabulous cast. Writer Danny Brocklehurst has done a fine job with the script and director Morgan Matthews ensures there’s rarely a dull moment.

Highly recommended.

The Railway Children Return is released in UK cinemas from July 15

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