The Railway Children Return – movie review

A family movie about the impact of war on children, The Railway Children Return is a sequel 52 years in the making.

It’s 1944 and a new wave of German bombing has British families on edge. Parents scramble to get their children onto steam trains bound for the country to families who will care for them temporarily. So it is for a mother and her three youngsters who live in Salford near Manchester.

The kids – 13-year-old Lily (Beau Gadsdon), 11-year-old Pattie (Eden Hamilton) and 6-year-old Ted (Zac Cudby) – head to the Yorkshire village of Oakworth. The three, who are keen not to be parted, end up staying with the headmistress of a local school, Annie (Sheridan Smith). Her husband is off fighting the Germans. She lives with her mother Bobbie (Jenny Agutter, who reprises her iconic role from the original film) and son, Thomas (Austin Haynes), 13.

In no time, the Manchester children are quite at home with their adopted family and the open spaces their new locale affords them. They get along fine with Thomas and enjoy playing in the local railway yard, where he has a secret hideout. It’s all one big adventure, until they discover an injured American soldier Abe (KJ Aikens), whose backstory isn’t pleasant. He is on the run, being chased by the military police, but all is not at it seems. What the railway children discover is an ugly by-product of war that doesn’t sit comfortably with them.

The Railway Children Return is a largely glossy representation of the period, tempered with darker moments. It’s one of these that gives the movie its major plot point and bite. Mind you, there are a number of moving components that help build the tension. Writers Daniel Brocklehurst and Jemma Rodgers have a younger audience in mind. Morgan Matthews directs.

Beau Gadsdon does much of the heavy lifting, admirably capturing the mix of responsible, pragmatic and playful that her role dictates. There is a spark about her, which is also present in her younger sister, as portrayed by Eden Hamilton. Austin Haynes brings a pleasant demeanour to his character, Thomas. The adults – notably Sheridan Smith – also play their parts nicely. Among them is John Bradley as the Oakworth station master, Richard Perks, the grandson of the previous station master, Albert Perks.

The Railway Children Return is a pleasant trip down memory lane. Importantly, you don’t have to have seen the original to appreciate this follow-up.

Alex First

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