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The Railway Children Movie Review

jeffries peter lionel ibbetson

If you're looking for a movie on video with a little more respect for its subject than, say, 1991's Hook has for Peter Pan, 1970's The Railway Children is a fine example. Director Lionel Jeffries wisely tackles this much-loved children's book on its own terms. The story opens when the police arrive to take Father Charles Water-bury into custody straight after a holiday performance of Peter Pan. We know right away that this Father is a decent, free-spirited man. His three children clearly adore him and he yells louder than anyone to save Tinkerbell's life. But he spends Christmas night and most of the film in prison (unfairly, it turns out), while his wife quietly works for his release. (Mother is beautifully played by Dinah Sheridan with the sly humor that helped to make Genevieve such a gem in the early ‘50s.) The three children include Jenny Agutter, who at 18 was an eyelash too mature for her role as Bobbie, but she's wonderful anyway in a delicately shaded performance. Along with her younger siblings Phyllis and Peter, she is given no real information about their predicament as the family leaves the city and struggles to survive in the Yorkshire countryside. Mother writes magazine stories and her offspring make new friends by hanging about a nearby railway line. By not minding their own business they are able to combat their loneliness and isolation, and they develop a great deal of empathy for others in the process. Ultimately they are able to free themselves from their greatly reduced circumstances. Making The Railway Children demanded tremendous discipline on Jeffries’ part. He could easily have torn the whole thing by mucking about with material for which he clearly had enormous affection to spare. Jeffries chose to honor the sheer simplicity of The Railway Children, and let the story tell itself. The Railway Children was filmed in Technicolor by one of the world's finest cinematographers, Arthur Ibbetson. Intricate attention was paid to period detail, not only with the sets and the costumes, but also with the atmosphere and the attitudes of 1905. When grown-ups return to the world of childhood, we really need to tread lightly, for we remember good and bad alike without real precision. The Railway Children offers a gentle, understated view of another time that may be even more appealing today than it was to the first-time readers of E. Nesbit's Edwardian classic.

1970 104m/C GB Jenny Agutter, William Mervyn, Bernard Cribbins, Dinah Sheridan, Iain Cuthbertson, Sally Thomsett, Peter Bromilow, Ann Lancaster, Gary Warren, Gordon Whiting, David Lodge; D: Lionel Jeffries; W: Lionel Jeffries; C: Arthur Ibbetson. VHS

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