Star Rating:

The Railway Children Return

Director: Morgan Matthews

Actors: Sheridan Smith, Tom Courtenay, Jenny Agutter

Release Date: Friday 15th July 2022

Genre(s): Adventure, Family

Running time: 98 minutes

As World War II rages across England, a group of children (Beau Gadson, Eden Hamilton and Zac Cudby) are evacuated from Manchester to the idyllic countryside of Yorkshire and are taken in by Bobbie (Jenny Agutter) and her daughter and local head teacher (Sheridan Smith). However, stationed nearby are American GIs and the children witness the forced segregation, in particular, a young American soldier named Abe (KJ Aikens)...

Depending on your vintage, there's a good chance the original 1970 movie might have whistled past your childhood and never stopped. Anyone on the wrong side of 35, however, will likely have some vague memories of a bunch of kids in the English countryside, some kind of tunnel, and generally harmless adventures involving steam trains. In 'The Railway Children Return', the story is moved up to 1944 and once follows the evacuation of young people from Manchester to the countryside, and brings back Jenny Agutter's character Bobbie, who is now a grandmother while her daughter - played by Sheridan Smith - is the local schoolmaster.

To say that the countryside and their time there is idyllic is an understatement. Director Morgan Matthews bathes the screen in warm tones and clover fields, all of it golden and innocent, yet just beyond the edges lurks some pretty serious stuff. In a way, 'The Railway Children Return' seems like it's mining some present-day concerns about racism and segregation because there's very little else going on to make a movie from. You get the sense that the cast of adults assembled - Tom Courtenay, Jenny Agutter, Sheridan Smith - latched on to this aspect of the story, yet the script does tend to ignore engaging with it fully, beyond motivation and story purposes.

The child actors all do their best to play the roles with the right amount of carefree innocence and stateliness, particularly KJ Aikens as the American soldier at the centre of it all. Beau Gadson, in particular, has the natural presence to be the leader of the pack. As to the adults, Sheridan Smith's natural charm and effortless good humour shines forth, while Tom Courtenay gives an air of prestige. Jenny Agutter acts as a connection to the original but little more than that, while John Bradley is the light-hearted comic relief.

While 'The Railway Children Return' is an adventure, it's never really that adventurous and maybe that's the point. It's a soft, comforting yarn of a movie, perfectly acceptable for a Sunday matinee crowd with old and young audiences. Compared to other attempts by gigantic conglomerates, 'The Railway Children Return' has an effortless charisma and chugs along without a care in the world.