The Railway Children Return review: fun-loving family entertainment

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This fun-loving, lighthearted sequel to The Railway Children is perfect family entertainment – here’s our review.

Set during the Second World War, The Railway Children Return tells the tale of three children – Lily (Beau Gadsdon), Pattie (Eden Hamilton), and Ted (Zac Cudby) – who are sent away from their mother in Manchester to live in the Yorkshire countryside. There they go to live with headmistress Annie (Sheridan Smith), her mother Bobbie (Jenny Agutter, reprising her role from the original film), and her son Thomas (Austin Haynes). They make new friends, but also discover a wounded American soldier (played by KJ Aikens) who they attempt to nurse back to health. Together, they must help him get home, and keep him a secret from the adults. 

Primarily a documentary filmmaker, Morgan Matthews helms the film. The setting’s feeling of authenticity and homeliness is aided by his background in non-fiction, as he captures the small Yorkshire village in a very down-to-earth way.

As it’s been over 50 years since the original The Railway Children was released, you might be pleased to know that this one stands completely on its own. No prior knowledge required. The only thing tying the two together is Agutter, but there aren’t many references to the events of her character’s childhood. Instead we get three new children, and they are a joy to spend time with. They’re written exactly like real kids – they get mucky, mess around, get into mischief, but also are extremely loving and supportive towards each other.

In line with this, most of the film’s problems are resolved through childish antics and shenanigans, which alleviates some of the seriousness of the subject matter. Despite being focused on a set of fun-loving children, The Railway Children Return doesn’t shy away from serious topics, be it war, racism, or death. Most of the performances are largely jovial, but each character has their moment of melancholy to keep them grounded. Sheridan Smith is particularly good at expressing this range. 

Most impressive of all though are the child actors. Gadsdon and Haynes are excellent as Lily and Thomas, who are both given more depth and serious, emotional dialogue than the younger ones (understandably). They’re the eldest of the children, and beneath the childlike exterior and fun-loving playfulness lies the worry and the emotional harm that living through the war has inflicted on them. It’s rare that the film calls for them to be angry, it’s lighthearted family entertainment after all, but on the odd occasion they need to give a moving monologue it’s done flawlessly. Their underlying trauma is another way The Railway Children Return exposes the darker, serious side of its period setting. 

Sometimes these monologues are used simply to force tension and conflict into the film. It’s almost as if, as it comes towards a resolution,  everyone’s a bit too chummy and there needs to be an argument to heat things up. 

Thankfully this is an isolated incident, and the film overall is fun, lighthearted and moving. There’s a real sense of a caring community which the entire cast, adults and children, pull together to create. The Railway Children Return perfectly illustrates what can be achieved through friendship and cooperation – a message that hits even harder in these present times. 

The Railway Children Return is in cinemas from 15th July.

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