September 23rd, 2022
MOVIE: RAILWAY CHILDREN
STARRING: JOHN BRADLEY, JENNY AGUTTER, SHERIDAN SMITH, TOM COURTENAY
DIRECTED BY: MORGAN MATTHEWS
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
Railway Children is inspired by a beloved novel which was previously adapted for a 1970 film. The latest attempt takes place forty years later and features Jenny Agutter who played Bobbie, one of the children in the previous film. She is now a grandmother with a daughter and grandson who took in additional children during the second World War. It is 1944, a dangerous time for Great Britain as Nazis threaten attacks on its major cities. In the opening scenes, several mothers are boarding their children onto a train to live in the country in hopes of saving them from the possible horrors to come. It’s a fast moving and emotional scene that will clearly tug at the hearts of parents everywhere given the unimaginable situation.
Soon though, the children arrive in a Yorkshire village which gladly welcomes them. In an attempt to keep siblings together, Bobbie and her family agree to house Lily, Pattie, and Ted. The three of them have no problems adjusting, which might appear a bit unrealistic but this is a family friendly film after all and lessons are to be learned… They begin frolicking through fields and assisting their adopted family with chickens and baking. It’s all very innocent and stands in sharp contrast to what was happening to them back in Manchester. Flashbacks depict their home in a dark and smoke filled neighborhood which is clearly struggling with the war. The countryside though is sunny and bright. It is here the film exposes one of its central questions: Should children be exposed to the truth of war or be protected from it?
The effects of war do creep into their lives though as they befriend a black U.S. soldier who has deserted the army. Touched on, perhaps a bit too briefly, is the racism these soldiers had to contend with. We mostly see this at a distance and the film only hints at its severity. This is a story worth exploring further. It could have been the central focus of this film but instead the narrative treats it from a young adult novel perspective with Lily, the oldest daughter, taking it upon herself to help the young man. What follows is a series of adventures that involve running through fields and fighting off foes at the local train station. The action moves at a nice clip and the music lends an emotional and uplifting hand. Other issues such as the death of a father and the shock of learning another is a POW are also very lightly touched upon. A less family friendly film might have delved into the issues and offer a more realistic take on these situations but that doesn’t seem to be the goal here.
The film seems to be suggesting that instead of wallowing and feeling destroyed by the war, everyone has a role and is responsible for doing what is right. It’s a very positive sentiment that generally feels well-earned by the narrative. There’s a strong sense of humanity and the importance of helping one’s fellow man. This is clearly passed onto the children within the film and will likely do the same with kids watching who will applaud the heroics of the young Brits. As such, the film is a bit sentimental but not unenjoyable and without merit.
Sets and costumes are admirably created and camera work is often sweeping and quite effective at capturing the beautiful countryside. Editing is appropriately fast paced in scenes of physical struggles. Fans of recent films such as Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast and Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women will appreciate the tone of Railway Children, which involves young people working through the difficulties of their time.
Overall, Railway Children is very warm and sweet. It is the kind of film that one can see with their family and revel in its themes of adventure, friendship, loyalty, and strength while also recognizing the deeper issues that exist just below the surface.
RAILWAY CHILDREN OPENS IN SELECT THEATERS FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 23RD, 2022.
Written by: Dan Pal