The Railway Children is a 1970 British drama film based on the novel of the same name by E. Nesbit. The film was directed by Lionel Jeffries, and stars Dinah Sheridan, Jenny Agutter (who had earlier featured in the successful BBC's 1968 dramatisation of the novel), Sally Thomsett and Bernard Cribbins in leading roles. The film was released to cinemas in the United Kingdom on 21 December 1970.
The film rights were bought by Lionel Jeffries. It was his directorial debut, and he was also responsible for writing the screenplay for the film. The Railway Children turned out to be a critical success, both at the time of its release and in later years.
|The Railway Children|
|Directed by||Lionel Jeffries|
|Produced by||Robert Lynn|
|Written by||E. Nesbit|
|Narrated by||Jenny Agutter|
|Music by||Johnny Douglas|
|Edited by||Teddy Darvas|
Universal Pictures (USA)
The story follows the adventures of the Waterbury children, who are forced to move with their mother (Dinah Sheridan) from a luxurious Edwardian villa in the London suburbs to "Three Chimneys", a house near the fictional 'Great Northern and Southern Railway' in Yorkshire, as their father (Iain Cuthbertson), who works at the Foreign Office, has been imprisoned as a result of being wrongly accused of selling state secrets to the Russians.
The three children, Roberta (Bobbie) (Jenny Agutter), Phyllis (Sally Thomsett) and Peter (Gary Warren), find amusement in watching the trains on the nearby railway line and waving to the passengers. They become friendly with Albert Perks (Bernard Cribbins), the station porter, and with the Old Gentleman (William Mervyn) who regularly takes the 9:15 down train. Meanwhile, to earn money to survive during her husband's absence, Mother writes and sells stories to magazines.
They have many adventures, including saving the lives of dozens of passengers by alerting a train to a landslide, rescuing a Russian dissident, Mr Szczepansky, and uniting him with his family, and caring for Jim, the grandson of the Old Gentleman, who is injured whilst participating in a paper chase. Finally, Bobbie discovers the truth of her father's absence and appeals to the Old Gentleman for his help. He is eventually able to help prove their father's innocence, and the family is reunited.
The entire cast break the fourth wall and perform a curtain call as the credits roll. The camera moves slowly along a railway track towards a train which is decked in flags, in front of which all of the cast are assembled, waving and cheering to the camera.
At the start of the credit sequence, a voice can be heard shouting "Thank you, Mr Forbes" as an acknowledgement to Bryan Forbes, who put up a security for the film to be completed. Meanwhile, Jenny Agutter holds up a small slate on which "The End" is written in chalk and says "Goodbye" as the credits conclude.
The novel had been filmed by the BBC in 1968.
Lionel Jeffries read the book for the first time when he was returning to Britain by ship from the USA to film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in which he appeared as an actor. He had lost his own books and borrowed The Railway Children from his daughters. He loved it, bought a six month option on the film rights for £300 and wrote a screenplay. Jeffries succeeded in attracting financing from Bryan Forbes at EMI Films. Forbes suggested Jeffries direct.
Sally Thomsett was cast as the 11-year-old[i] Phyllis, despite being 20 years old at the time. Her contract forbade her to reveal her true age during the making of the film and she was also not allowed to be seen smoking or drinking during the shoot. 17-year-old Jenny Agutter played her older sister, Roberta, and Gary Warren played their brother, Peter. Agutter had previously played the same role in the 1968 BBC Television adaptation of the story. Dinah Sheridan was cast as Mother, and Bernard Cribbins as Perks the porter.
Lionel Jeffries used the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, and its station at Oakworth, as the backdrop for the film, referring to it as the "Great Northern and Southern Railway". At the time of filming there were still very few heritage railways in Britain, and only the KWVR could provide a tunnel, which is important in a number of scenes. The tunnel is a lot shorter in reality than it appears in the film, for which a temporary extension to the tunnel was made using canvas covers.
A number of working locomotives were used in the making of the film, including MSC67, 5775 (L89), 52044 (Preserved as L&Y 957) and 4744 (69523/1744), all of which survive. They were painted in fictional liveries for the filming; 5775 in brown, reminiscent of the Stroudley livery of the London Brighton and South Coast Railway, 957 in apple green, similar to liveries used by the North Eastern Railway, Great Northern Railway and London and North Eastern Railway, and 4744 and MSC67 in plain black, as used by most railway companies in Britain at one time or another. 67 is now at the Middleton Railway, Leeds, and 4744 is now with the North Norfolk Railway at Sheringham. 5775 and 957 are still on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. As of 2014, 4744 is the only locomotive that remains operational as 957, 5775 and 67 are on static display at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, National Railway Museum Shildon and the Middleton Railway respectively.
A wide variety of vintage rolling stock was used in the film, including examples from the Metropolitan and London and North Eastern railways. Although different carriages appeared in different liveries, the dominant one is white and maroon, which is reminiscent of the livery of the Caledonian Railway. The most important carriage in the film, the Old Gentleman's Saloon, was a North Eastern Railway Director's Saloon, that has been used since in the stage production of the book. It and all the other carriages seen in the film are still at the KWVR, but tend to be used at special events only, due to their age.
A number of different locations were employed for various scenes. The house called "Three Chimneys" is in Oxenhope, just north of the Oxenhope railway station. The Bronte Parsonage in Haworth was used as the location for Doctor Forrest's surgery. The scenes of the children sitting on a bridge were filmed at Wycoller near Colne. Mytholmes Tunnel near Haworth, and the railway line running through it, were used extensively in the film, including being the location for the paper chase scene, as well as the one in which the children wave the girls' petticoats in the air to warn the train about a landslide. The landslide sequence itself was filmed in a cutting on the Oakworth side of Mytholmes Tunnel and the fields of long grass where the children waved to the trains are situated on the Haworth side of the tunnel. A leaflet, "The Railway Children Walks", is available from KWVR railway stations or the Haworth Tourist Information Centre.
The film was the ninth most popular movie at the British box office in 1971 and recouped its cost in that country alone. It was one of the few financial successes of Bryan Forbes' regime at EMI Films.
A 40th anniversary Blu-ray and DVD was released on 5 May 2010 with a new digitally remastered print. It includes new interviews with Sally Thomsett, Jenny Agutter and Bernard Cribbins. The planned commentary by director Lionel Jeffries was not completed due to his death in February 2010.
The Railway Children received three nominations for awards at the 24th British Academy Film Awards ceremony. Bernard Cribbins was nominated in the category of Best Supporting Actor. However, in a category also featuring John Mills, Colin Welland and Gig Young, the award went to Welland for his role in the film Kes. Sally Thomsett received a nomination for Best Newcomer in a Leading Role but again lost out to an actor from Kes, in this case David Bradley. Johnny Douglas was also nominated for the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music but the award was won by American Burt Bacharach for his film score for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Hornby Railways produced a 00 gauge train set of the train from the film. It had a London, Midland and Scottish Railway 0-6-0 tank shunting locomotive in GN&SR livery with Synchrosmoke, two period coaches, an oval of track and a station.
Bachmann Branchline currently produces a 00 gauge train pack from the film, albeit a more accurate set. It includes a GWR 5700 Class locomotive in GN&SR's brown livery, two LMS Period I carriages in GN&SR's maroon and white livery, and a model of the Oakworth station building.
In 2010, to coincide with the 40th anniversary, a book was brought out called The Making of the Railway Children by Jim Shipley - a former volunteer station master of Oakworth Station. It detailed events that took place during filming and interviews from local people associated with it. In November 2012, a second updated version was printed with added information, in particular about Gary Warren who disappeared in the mid 70's after retiring from acting. He had been tracked down by a member of the Official Catweazle fanclub and the author had permission to write a more updated version of what had happened to him.
In 2013, the British Board of Film Classification released a statement saying that they had received and evaluated a complaint about the film in that it encouraged children to trespass on the railway tracks. The BBFC noted that the children did trespass on the line, but only to warn an approaching train of the danger of a landslide on the track ahead. The BBFC also pointed out that the film was set in Edwardian times when access to railway lines was not under the same restrictions as modern times.
The film has left a lasting impression on the British film industry and audiences. In 1999, the British Film Institute (BFI) put The Railway Children in 66th place in its list of the Top 100 British films of all time. Five years later, the film magazine Total Film named it the 46th greatest British film of the 20th century. In 2005 the British Film Institute included it in their list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14. In 2008, the film made it onto Channel 4's list of the 100 Greatest Family Films at number 30, just ahead of Monsters, Inc. and just behind Men in Black and Ghostbusters. On 28 March 2010 the Bradford International Film Festival concluded with a new restoration of The Railway Children film with the 40th anniversary digital premiere.
Jenny Agutter also starred in a made-for-TV remake of The Railway Children in 2000 in the role of Mother. Much of the publicity for the 2000 film focused on Agutter's involvement in both films made a generation apart.