THE RAILWAY CHILDREN; warm & charming

This 40th Anniversary Blu-ray/DVD offers the best version of this beloved children's classic to date...

Depending on your sensibility, Lionel Jeffries€™ 1970 adaptation of Edith Nesbit€™s €˜The Railway Children€™ is either a charming classic or the ultimate in middle-class twee. Many will feel the film harkens back to a simpler, more innocent age and will find the experience of watching this new 40th Anniversary Edition remastered Blu-ray release to be something akin to a warm blast of Horlicks for the eyes. Others will find the film€™s condescending attitude towards €œthe poor€ profoundly irritating, along with the titular priggish children. I have to admit that, almost against my better judgement, I am in the former camp and was quite charmed by the film, which is centred on the story of three children who, along with their mother, move to a small village when their father is arrested suddenly for a crime he didn€™t commit. Once there, the children have a series of low-key adventures and befriend some of the nice local people, in particular a man name Perks who works on the railway (played with understated warmth and sadness by Bernard Cribbins). Adventures include such antics as alerting an oncoming train to debris on the track, throwing Cribbins an impromptu birthday party, helping a Russian man to find his family and tending to a boy with a broken leg. Naturally, it€™s a high-octane, thrill-ride that takes hold of your attention and doesn€™t let go! But however slowly the film is paced and however slight the story, €˜The Railway Children€™ is never boring and is in fact a consistent pleasure from start to finish. The young cast are admittedly terrific with Jenny Agutter(€˜Walkabout€™, €˜An American Werewolf in London€™ and €˜Logan€™s Run€™) the obvious stand out as the oldest daughter, Roberta, who she imbues with a strength and wisdom beyond her years. Sally Thomsett(who was in €˜Straw Dogs€™ a year later!) is almost equally good as the slightly kooky younger sister, Phyllis (who €œmeans well€ apparently), whilstGary Warren (the film€™s only genuine child actor) is also decent as Peter. It is true to say that it is hard to sympathise with the upper-middle class protagonists throughout much of the film. For instance in one scene they move into a quite disgustingly large country house whilst complaining about being poor and bemoaning their new low status. But somehow (and I can€™t help but use this word again) the film is ever so charming the whole time. My favourite moment is probably at the film€™s climax, as the cast gather on the railway track to break the fourth wall, as a slow dolly zoom homes in on Agutter who tells us it is the end of the film. It is just so€ so charming. There isn€™t any malice, or cynicism or confrontation to be found within the film at all. The main appeal of this new 40th Anniversary release on Blu-ray and DVD (as well as a limited release in some theatres) is the new remastered picture and sound, which is superb. The film (especially on Blu-ray) looks better than ever with the colours looking bright and vivid with the effect of making the film seem even more inviting. It is a noticeable improvement on the image quality of previous versions of the film and €˜Railway Children€™ aficionados should definitely get hold of a copy. The supplementary materials are not extensive with both versions boasting a short documentary and some fairly mannered interviews with members of the cast (as well as children€™s author Jaqueline Wilson). On Blu-ray these features are presented in standard definition, so the only difference between the two discs is the picture quality of the main feature. I wouldn€™t hesitate to recommend this new edition of a beloved classic to fans and collectors. However, if you are not too concerned with having the best quality master of the film, then there are perhaps not enough additional features to make this purchase seem worthwhile. This new version of 'The Railway Children' is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.
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A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.