Like ET, The Wizard of Oz and The Great Escape, The Railway Children -the 1970 original which spawned reboot The Railway Children Return – is a movie most of us have absorbed at some point, probably during Christmas or a bank holiday.
The 1970 movie is one of the beloved British movies of all time, so even 52 years on it’s easy to see why someone would want to capitalise on that affection with a sequel. The Railway Children Return is a direct follow-up, set four decades after the first story, which was set towards the end of World War 2.
Three evacuees from Manchester are sent to the same village that Bobbie Waterbury (Jenny Agutter) was sent years before and now lives as a grandmother. Welcomed by the locals, the kids discover an African-American GI (Kenneth Aikens) hiding nearby, swearing them to secrecy as he claims to be on a secret mission.
With tensions rising in the village, the children agree to help the soldier with the aid of friendship, ingenuity, and railways. E. Nesbitt’s 1906 novel has seen its fair share of adaptations – as well as the 1970 film, Agutter also appeared in a 1968 TV adaptation and a 2000 remake. As such, there is a weariness about the way this sequel sticks resolutely to the plot points that came before.
There’s a little bit of inspiration from another classic, Whistle Down The Wind, in the children’s friendship with the GI, but mostly it’s a light jape that hopes you came along to see the hits played again. There is something comforting about seeing where Bobbie ended up, and anyone who has ever shed a tear to the famous “Daddy, my Daddy!” scene will be happy to see Agutter’s character happy and retaining the same spirit as she did before.
The young cast are proxies for their predecessors, as are characters like Jon Bradley’s station master and the warm Sheridan Smith as Bobbie’s daughter. Aside from those desperate for an update on the old cast, however, it’s difficult to see what this really brings to the table.
The Railway Children Return is a cosy, nostalgic yarn, but one that fails to justify its existence. Every few years there’s a remake of this type, attempting to recall a period we all look back on with fondness. However, like 2016’s Dad’s Army or the following year’s remake of Whiskey Galore, this new evacuee’s tale doesn’t seem to be worth the journey.
The Railway Children Return plays in cinemas now