Everything you need to know about the new Railway Children film
- Credit: Canalplus
The Railway Children is a classic film in which Yorkshire is a star in itself. The film, with Oakworth Station and Haworth playing lead roles, celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.
Now filming is due to start on a sequel, The Railway Children Return, due for release this time next year. Returning to the screen will be Jenny Agutter, alongside Sheridan Smith, Tom Courtenay and a new generation of Railway Children.
BAFTA winning director Morgan Matthews will be shooting in key locations from the original film, including Oakworth Station, Haworth, and The Bronte Parsonage. The iconic Keighley & Worth Valley Railway from the original film will also feature.
The Railway Children Return brings the classic film to a new audience, telling the heart-warming story of a group of children evacuated to a Yorkshire village during World War 2, where they encounter a young soldier, who like them, is far away from home.
Last year Sebastian Oake spoke to star, Jenny Agutter, well-known to today’s audiences as Sister Julienne in Call the Midwife about her memories of filming in Yorkshire, and the staying power of this classic
Jenny, who played Roberta, says that, at the time of shooting, she would have been surprised to be looking back at the film 50 years later.
’Back then, I never imagined the film would remain a favourite for so many people for so many years,’ she reflects. ‘It’s truly a family film. The young can enjoy the children going from one adventure to another while adults can pick up on the humour Lionel Jeffries put into the film. Bernard Cribbins as Perks the railway porter was both moving and great fun. Dinah Sheridan played mother with such panache, the film was beautifully shot by Arthur Ibbetson and the music by Johnny Douglas added so much.’
The film will probably be most remembered for the emotional reunion scene shot on the platform of Oakworth Station. A thick cloud of steam slowly clears to reveal a gentleman come home to his family, a family he was not expecting to see again for a long time. ‘Daddy, my Daddy!’ cries Roberta as she runs to him and jumps into his arms.
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'Lionel managed to stop just short of sentimental,’ says Jenny. ‘When the father comes back and is at the station, he stretches out the scene and has you on the edge of your seat but it’s not mawkish. He caught a wonderful moment with ‘Daddy, my Daddy!’ You really feel the longing that Edith Nesbit was able to write into the book – she lost her own father when she was a child.’
Jenny thought the platform scene was beautifully shot but reveals: ‘With the noise of the train the sound recording was not good. I tried to repeat the emotion in a sound studio later, but it was impossible. Lionel knew the moment had worked when we filmed it and decided to clean up the original soundtrack from the platform and use that.
‘In terms of emotional value, he achieved perfection.’
'No-one would disagree with that and many would say that comment sums up the whole film, not just one scene. ‘Actually, when we were working on the film,’ Jenny recalls, ‘it did feel it was kind of blessed. It was spring and we had gorgeous weather. Lionel Jeffries was a larger than life character and seemed like an Edwardian gentleman himself, which really helped us get into the feel of the period.’
Other actors who starred in the film have also reflected on the reasons for its success. At a special screening of the film ten years ago to mark its 40th anniversary, Bernard Cribbins said: ‘It was a lovely story, I had a lovely part and it all seemed to go very well. The result, as we know, was terrific – the applause and adulation has gone on.’
Nevertheless, perhaps the most telling tribute to the film came from a Yorkshireman living close to the railway. ‘You know what’s so great about that there film?’ he said to the chairman of the heritage railway. ‘It’s got no bad language and no folk runnin’ round wi’ no clothes on!’
Whatever the secret of its success, the film has certainly been a huge boost for the Keighley and Worth Valley heritage railway. Jim Shipley has volunteered on the railway for 36 years and is the author of The Making of the Railway Children, which gives personal recollections of how the film was made. The fascinating nuggets he reveals include how the famous platform reunion scene was disrupted when the wrong train was provided, how the scene where the children waved the red petticoats to stop the train was actually filmed in reverse – presumably to avoid the risk of the train running over Jenny Agutter – and how William Mervyn, who played the Old Gentleman, got so fed up waiting around to be filmed one day that he commandeered a train and took it to Haworth to go to the pub while still in full costume.
‘When the film was made,’ Jim says, ‘the boost in traffic on the railway was so great that a passing track loop had to be created to enable additional trains to operate.
‘Fifty years on, many people still visit Oakworth Station in particular to follow in the footsteps of Roberta, Peter and Phyllis. Perhaps the most poignant memory for me was a young girl who got off the train at Oakworth and actually kissed the platform.’
Perhaps more than anything, that illustrates the affection still felt for this landmark film.