The Railway Children
Based on the bestselling novel by E Nesbit, The Railway Children has been a family favourite for decades and it's amazing to think it is now 40 years old. It was one of those films that I saw quite a few times as a child but, before I watched it last night, it is probably twenty years since I last saw the film.
The Waterbury family have seemingly idyllic life in London with Mrs Waterbury, a successful children's author, and Mr Waterbury Secretary of State. Everything changes one Christmas morning when the family are opening their presents in the living room and there is a knock at the door. The housekeeper answers and then comes into the lounge to tell Mr Waterbury that there are some men waiting for him. When he goes to see them and leaves his family, that is the last of the children will see of him for many years.
No one explains to the three children, Bobbie, Phyllis and Peter, what has happened to their father, all they know is that he was there one minute and was gone the next. With the breadwinner away in a cloud of secrecy, the family relocate to a small Yorkshire village next to a railway line and the children, who had always thought of trains as being nothing more than devices for taking people from one place to another, suddenly realise that the railway will be a major part of their lives. Sitting on the fence overlooking the railway one morning, Phyllis decides that she will wave to the train heading south so it will take her love to London and to her father and, at first reluctantly, her siblings decide to join in. Whilst they are waving at the train, an elderly gentleman in the rear carriage notices them and waves back and an unlikely friendship is struck between the three children and the wealthy old gent who frequently travels back and forth from the north to the south and back again.
It isn't long before the children encounter the local station porter, Mr Perks, and he also becomes one of their friends. What should really be an uneventful stay in the country proves to be anything but as the Waterbury children avert a train crash, the life of a young cross-country runner and help reunite a famous Russian author with his family. All the while they ingratiate themselves with the local community and come to realise this is a special place whilst they are waiting for news of their father and of any sign that he may return home.
As family films go, The Railway Children is just about as good as you get. The casting is pitch perfect from the three children, Jenny Agutter, Sally Thomsett and Gary Warren, to Bernard Cribbins as Mr Perks and the kindly, well educated mother, Dinah Sheridan. The child actors are utterly convincing in their roles and the quality of their acting is, for me, epitomised by Jenny Agutter who was two years younger than Sally Thomsett (who played her younger sister) and is really the focus of the film is the story is a coming-of-age tale for Bobbie. This is one of those films that works for viewers of all ages and the ending is one of those that, like It's a Wonderful Life, really brings a lump to the throat.
As I hadn't seen this for two decades, I suspected that it would have lost effect over the years and I wouldn't appreciate it as I did as a child. I was glad to find that it was probably more effective as I'm now in a position to see the quality of the filmmaking, writing and acting. The period setting, in the early Edwardian era, is important is it means The Railway Children doesn't age or become in any way dated. The Waterburys, especially Bobbie and the Mother, are incredibly posh and Jenny Agutter can probably outdo most members of the Royal Family for correct enunciation!
For someone who spends most of his life watching horror movies, it's always interesting to watch something different and you can get more different from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (which I watched the night before) than The Railway Children. This is a lovely film that fully deserves to be digitally restored and given a Blu-ray release.
Optimum have put together quite a nice package for this 40th anniversary edition. The first extra feature is a 20 minute retrospective comprising interviews with many of the locals who were involved as extras such as Ann Cryer MP and they all talk about the locations, what it was like having a feature film come to their small town and how they reacted when they saw themselves on screen. You don't often hear about the people who live in and around an area where a film was made so this gives a nice insight into how the film was made, the locations used and what the locals thought, and still think, about the film.
There are also four interviews and normally these are short puff pieces and whilst these were certainly made as EPK Featurettes, they are very long and informative. Jacqueline Wilson gives her perspective on the book and the film as a children's writer whilst Jenny Agutter, Bernard Cribbins and Sally Thomsett talk about how they became involved, what it was like working with the other cast members and what they got up to when they weren't filming. It's quite amusing to hear Cribbins talking about his night-time fishing and how Agutter and Thomsett, aged 17 and 19 respectively but playing much younger, were caught out by Lionel Jeffries when they snuck out for a night on the town!
As this year marked the 40th anniversary of the film's release, not only was the film digitally restored, but there were special events around the shooting location and even a live production will take place at Waterloo Station!
The picture is absolutely stunning and shows what can be done when time and effort is put into restoring a film to its former glory. Detail level is high and the contrast and tone are exceptional. The colours are vibrant and showcase the beautiful scenery of the Yorkshire Dales from the bright blue sky to the rolling fields where almost every buttercup can be picked out.
It's not only the picture that has been restored, but the sound has undergone restoration treatment and is presented here in a beautifully clear LPCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack. The dialogue and small ambient sounds are crisp, with the trains giving a reassuringly loud noise as they steam past, whistle and break.
Should you require them, there are English HoH subtitles.
The Railway Children is one of the finest family films ever made in Britain and sits alongside movies like Mary Poppins as examples of what you can do with a great cast, great subject material and grey settings. It really doesn't matter how old you are, The Railway Children is a film to be loved and cherished and this Blu-ray is the perfect way to do this. It is a splendid release and, although there is no commentary track, it is a wonderful release for all the family.