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With: Jenny Agutter, Dinah Sheridan, Sally Thomsett, Gary Warren, Bernard Cribbins, William Mervyn, Ann Lancaster
Written by: Lionel Jeffries, based on a novel by E. Nesbit
Directed by: Lionel Jeffries
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 109
Date: 12/21/1970

The Railway Children (1970)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Right Track

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Adapted and directed by Lionel Jeffries, The Railway Children is perhaps better known in England than it is in the U.S.A. Both the British Film Institute and Time Out London chose it as one of the 100 greatest British films of all time.

A family's wonderful life in London is upset when the father is suddenly whisked away for mysterious reasons. The mother (Dinah Sheridan) is forced to move the family to cheaper lodgings in Yorkshire. The children, Roberta (Jenny Agutter), Phylllis (Sally Thomsett) and Peter (Gary Warren), begin to pass the time by waving to the passengers on the train as it goes by. They become friendly with the station porter Albert Perks (Bernard Cribbins). Over time, and in several mostly unrelated incidents, they learn to love their new home and the people in it. And some of the friends they make are able to help them in return.

This is a remarkably gentle and old-fashioned movie, but with several wonderfully unexpected touches. Weirdly dreamlike sequences sporadically occur, as when Roberta (also known as "Bobby") celebrates her birthday and appears to drift through the room, or when a tree begins moving by itself.

The score, by Johnny Douglas, is also quite delightful and highlights several tension-relieving comical moments. The drama could have been distressing, and/or grueling, but instead Jeffries treats it lightly by using a format of mostly unrelated incidents as well as themes of hope, resourcefulness, and helpfulness. The casting and performances are exceptional, and especially the three charming children, who are in almost every scene. This movie deserves to be better known.

Kino Lorber released a long-awaited Blu-ray in 2021, looking far better than the grungy old DVD upon which I first saw the film. It includes a commentary track by film historian Paul Anthony Nelson, and trailers for this and four other films.

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