‘Railway Children’ Review: A Nostalgia Trip, With Lessons
The Railway Children universe originates in Edith Nesbit’s 1905 serialized novel about a mother and three children at the turn of the century who leave London to live just off a country rail line. A popular 1970 adaptation starring the British actress Jenny Agutter followed (among others), but the most recent “Railway Children” is set during World War II. The three youngsters in Morgan Matthews’s winsome new film, are shipped to the northern countryside as part of the evacuation of children that occurred during German air raids.
Thirteen-year-old Lily (Beau Gadsdon) and her younger siblings Pattie and Ted (Eden Hamilton and Zac Cudby), are taken in by Annie, a kindly schoolmistress (Sheridan Smith) and Bobbie, her mother (Agutter). The city kids go through an adjustment period, but they soon settle into an idyllic Yorkshire, which is bathed in the film’s burnishing glow.
Dotted with lessons, this is initially a nostalgia trip handled with the cherubic faces of a children’s show. Tom Courtenay (“45 Years”) turns up as a beloved uncle to deliver a Churchillian speech at the dinner table.
Drama arrives with the American soldiers who add fresh drama of a troubling sort. Lily and her siblings secretly give refuge to a very young Black enlistee, Abe (KJ Aikens, a bit wobbly), who’s sought by the military police. Perhaps unexpectedly, “Railway Children” takes up the fact that Jim Crow segregation was enforced within US armed forces.
Decency prevails in a somewhat ludicrous finale involving an army of children and a train containing a high-ranking officer. It’s an ending so tidy as to undercut the effort to broach a shameful side to the American war effort.
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. In theaters.