Actor Lionel Jeffries’ directorial debut The Railway Children is a warm and engaging tale – not to mention firm family favourite – of three Edwardian youngsters determined to clear their unjustly imprisoned father’s name.
E Nesbit’s story concerns a middle-class family whose lives are turned upside down when the father (Iain Cuthbertson), an employee of the British Foreign Office, is accused of espionage and sent to jail. In straitened circumstances, the mother (Dinah Sheridan) takes her three children (Jenny Agutter, Sally Thomsett and Gary Warren) to live on the Yorkshire moors, where she persuades them to ‘play at being poor’.
They soon adapt to their new life, basing much of their activities around the railway, which runs close by the village, and befriending the curmudgeonly porter, Mr Perks (Bernard Cribbins), who runs the station. While their mother keeps food on the table by writing short stories, the children hit on the idea of enlisting the help of the distinguished elderly gentleman they see on the train each day, hoping he can somehow clear their father’s name.
An all-time cinema classic that appeals to children and adults alike, the film was a significant departure from the somewhat racier contemporary movie scene and was therefore a surprising, but huge success. Jeffries’ fine script and affectionate direction struck a perfect balance between humour and pathos and the performances of the talented cast were greatly praised.
Of the young actors, Variety singled out “snub-nosed Jenny Agutter, who looks like the favourable bet for stardom this year,” and perceptively enthused about the movie as an “offbeat, old-fashioned but quite irresistible film that should be a smash with family audiences.”
UK / EMI / 108 minutes / 1970 Filmed in Technicolor
Writer: Lionel Jeffries, from the novel by E Nesbit / Producer: Robert Lynn / Music: Johnny Douglas / Cinematography: Arthur Ibbetson / Director: Lionel Jeffries
Cast: Dinah Sheridan, Bernard Cribbins, Iain Cuthbertson, Jenny Agutter, Sally Thomsett, Gary Warren, William Mervyn,