Railway Children (The Railway Children Return) (2022)
Railway Children (The Railway Children Return) (2022)

Genre: Drama and Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.

Release Date: September 23rd, 2022 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Morgan Matthews Actors: Jenny Agutter, Sheridan Smith, Tom Courtenay, Beau Gadsdon, Austin Haynes, Eden Hamilton, KJ Aikens, Zac Cudby, John Bradley

 


 

F

ive years into WWII, a new wave of German bombing raids threatens British cities, forcing parents to make the difficult decision to evacuate their children. In 1944 in Salford, three such youths are put on a train to the countryside, where an abundance of trees, clean air, and a lengthy ride without a lavatory are startlingly new concepts. Though they’re separated from their immediate family, this transition creates an opportunity for an adventure of sorts, especially in the rural village destination of Oakworth, where supervision isn’t terribly strict.

Lily (Beau Gadsdon), Pattie (Eden Hamilton), and Ted Watts (Zac Cudby) end up being the last to get picked, primarily because the families that house children aren’t prepared to feed and care for three at once. But kindhearted Roberta “Bobbie” Waterbury (Jenny Agutter) – who’s had this same scenario happen to her – and her adult daughter, school headmistress Annie (Sheridan Smith), can’t disappoint the unwanted trio, finally agreeing to take them all – which is in addition to the little boy they already care for (Austin Haynes as Thomas). Their room may be small and life on a farm is unfamiliar, but vast stretches of greenery and mischievous locals provide countless dalliances – apart from watching out for suspicious enemy activities.

Despite some conspicuously overdramatic music at the start (which resurfaces from time to time), hoping to squeeze tears from audiences as mothers push their distraught children away onto trains, the movie soon switches to more sensible, lighter routines, catering to younger crowds with mirthful capers – ranging from slipping in mud to collecting eggs to fighting with flour and dough to hurling conkers to playing hide-and-seek. Intermittently intervening with the blitheness is word of casualties from the warfront, or a brief concern about German spies in the railyard (“This is our mission!” the kids exclaim, arming themselves with pipes and plungers and shovels as they hope to ambush a vagrant). But maturer notions are often disregarded for airier misadventures.

“I want to go home.” Plenty of nods to the original story crop up, particularly as this updated version mirrors most of the events in the manner of a remake (it’s also a clear sequel, as Agutter, now a grandmother, reprises her role from the 1970 picture), with the shift in era generating few considerable differences. At its heart, it’s once again a family-friendly tale, targeting not only a youthful demographic, but also fans of the original source material and its adaptations. The true horrors of war, as well as racial tensions of the period, are somewhat brushed past at the start for the sake of curious kids engaging in juvenile assignments under the guise of secret missions for the army (with a Spielbergian distrust of adult interventions). Even the little mysteries, such as the appearance of American soldier Abe (Kenneth Aikens), are easily guessable, though this subplot circles back to systemic racism in an unexpected way, which also touches upon the level of cooperation and coordination of the American military (and its questionable jurisdictional authorities). Yet even when it does dwell longer on heavier themes, the solutions are often uncharacteristically fluffy.

On the technical side, with its bigger budget and access to historical equipment and props, the film is visually acceptable, with decent acting (John Bradley from “Game of Thrones” and Tom Courtenay are two of the notable supporting players), cinematography, and set designs. Yet the plot progression – chiefly with unnecessary flashbacks and a few repetitive shots that minimally recreate the signature closing moments of the Lionel Jeffries movie – aren’t all that exciting; the commonplace approach to a children’s adventure is far from innovative. Nevertheless, the build to the climax, in which the railway children must band together for a rescue of sorts, is moderately pleasant, even if, once again, the resolution is entirely too easy and manufactured.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10