Lionel Jeffries’ recent demise inevitably casts a shadow over this 40th anniversary re-release of his family favourite. But it doesn’t dim the nostalgic glow his gentle adap of E. Nesbit’s fable generates, even if time hasn’t been terribly kind to its inoffensive wholesomeness.
Although there’s little of that in a surprisingly unsettling opening that sees Iain Cuthbertson’s benign patriarch carted away from his Christmas celebrations by two Scotland Yard rozzers. Nor is there much to chortle about as his well-to-do wife (Dinah Sheridan) and three children are consigned to a life of comparative poverty in Yorkshire.
Once relocated, Bobbie ( Jenny Agutter), Phyllis (Sally Thomsett) and Peter (Gary Warren) make the best of it, befriending folk along the train track, along with kindly station porter Perks (Bernard Cribbins). They even get up to some mild heroics, saving an injured jogger, and a choo-choo from a landslide.
The blissful obliviousness with which its characters prance around railway tracks isn’t the only reminder that this belongs to a more innocent age. There is also the measured pace, the implicit acceptance of social divisions and the instant suspicion that greets a penniless Russian travelling without luggage.
Don’t hold The Railway Children’s old-fashioned charm against it, though. As archaic as it is, it’s full of heart – not to mention extras (interviews with the cast, a new documentary) that weren’t available at press time.
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