“RAILWAY CHILDREN”

Published On September 22, 2022 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

“RAILWAY CHILDREN”
Starring Beau Gadsdon, Eden Hamilton, Zac Cudby, Austin Haynes, KJ Aikens, Sheridan Smith, Jenny Agutter, Tom Courtenay, Jessica Baglow, John Bradley, Hugh Quarshire, Neil Hurst, Micky Williams, Joseph Richards
Directed by Morgan Matthews
Written by Danny Brocklehurst
Based on “The Railway Children,” the 1906 novel by Edith Nesbit
Produced by Jemma Rodgers
Cinematography by Kit Fraser
Edited by Rebecca Lloyd
Music by Edward Farmer and Martin Phipps

By Matt Neufeld

For the third time in three months, one of the best films of 2022–in the most recent case, the thoroughly excellent and enjoyable “Railway Children,” which is set for release on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022–is bring released to critical acclaim but without any intelligent, respectable amount of concurrent, proper and deserved advertising, marketing, publicity or promotion. This reoccurring, irritating crime against filmgoing–clueless studio suits ignoring quality, clever and original films at the expense of an endless, nightmarish parade of overpriced, overdone, over-produced, unoriginal and lower-quality blockbusters, sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots–is nothing new, of course, but this irritating practice is increasingly troublesome and worrisome as the film industry continues to suffer from myriad other problems causing the craft and the concurrent business side to horrifyingly implode and devolve upon itself.

As filmgoers increasingly flee real movie theaters–still the only real place where movies should be seen in their initial first runs–in alarmingly increasing numbers; as movie theater chain financial losses continue to pile up; as the general, overall quality of films continues to decrease at alarming rates; as the general, overall quality of brick-and-mortar movie theaters themselves continues to decrease; and as actual filmmakers themselves continue to protest all of the above as very real hindrances to the actual art and craft of making quality movies, one would naturally think that studios would want to re-focus their business models and concentrate on getting intelligent, original, inventive and quality films in attractive, affordable and accessible theaters with respective well-funded advertising and promotional support and attendant large numbers of excited filmgoers who are happy to see a movie in a real movie theater that doesn’t have comic book characters, superheroes, psycho killers, gunfights, explosions, irritating immature moronic people talking on phones and more monsters crawling on more ceilings.

Well, we can at least hope and dream and wish.

So, for the weekend of Sept. 23-25, 2022, a simply wonderful new film, “Railway Children,” enters theaters amid very little ad and publicity support, despite the movie being one of 2022’s best releases. Along with “Where the Crawdads Sing,” from July, 2022, and “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” from August, 2022, these three films do indeed stand as the year’s best films. Yet, sadly and unfortunately, very few people have seen these excellent films.

“Railway Children,” which succeeds at a high level in every filmic area, tells the heartwarming, yet also somewhat bittersweet, tale of Britain’s needed movement of thousands of children from London to the British countryside during World War II as enemy bombs rained down on the city. This was heartbreaking for everyone, of course, but it was also needed to protect and safeguard the children. The film focuses on three kids in particular, the wholly lovable, adorable, caring, smart, mature and good-natured siblings Lily Watts, 14; Pattie Watts, 11; and Ted Watts, 7, as they are sent via train to the beautiful, bucolic Yorkshire countryside to live with an equally lovable and caring family, led by matriarch Roberta “Bobbie” Waterbury. Kudos to the screenwriter, Danny Brocklehurst, for making all of the kids and all of the welcoming Waterburys relatable, likeable and just good people, in general.

For once, we have a movie where the lead characters act like real people, display real emotions, develop real, loving and caring relationships, relate to each other on mature, respectable and enjoyable levels, and truly do care for–and, eventually–love each other. The characters and relationships that build, evolve and blossom in the most positive ways between the Watts and the Waterburys is just a joy to behold. Again, it’s how real people should behave and relate and care for each other. And it’s all thoroughly believable, thanks to the consistently high level of acting by all of the lead actors. This, one thinks, again, is not only how people should behave, but this is how more people and more characters should be presented in more modern-day movies.

The positive, caring and supportive relationships among the characters that are presented in the movie offers one of several positive messages that the film manages to smartly deliver. It’s true that people came together in amazingly heroic, needed, lifesaving ways during the World War II years–as everyone should have done and needed to do, of course–but it’s never tiring to see such inspiring actions told in such inspiring ways in well-made movies. This story’s simple message about the need for people to help each other out during the very worst of times is just uplifting and heartening.

But there’s much more story, and more positive messages to convey, in “Railway Children.”

As Lily, Pattie and Zac settle in with Bobbie, Bobbie’s schoolteacher daughter Annie, Annie’s equally charming son Thomas, 13, and the Waterbury’ debonair, classy, strong and elder, wisened sage Uncle Walter, in the calming, peaceful Yorkshire countryside, a war-related mystery appears amid the peace and calm. The kids, while out playing one day, discover a young American soldier hiding out in one of the area’s old abandoned railcars. From that point, a small piece of the seemingly faraway war puzzle enters their peaceful existence, and it’s up to the kids to try and put the pieces back together and solve the mystery.

Along the way, there are additional intelligent messages about the horrors, ridiculousness and stupidity of war, and about the equally horrific and idiotic nature of racism. But, to screenwriter Bricklehurst’s and director Morgan Matthews’ credits, in this movie, which has a genuine heart and good nature despite the surrounding reminders and implications of the war, these messages are never heavy-handed, and in fact, the movie’s lessons and morals are deftly, softly and understatedly presented in a pleasing, subtle manner.

Thus, “Railway Children” manages to be an engaging, entertaining, smart, positive, warm-hearted and enjoyable film while also succeeding in making you think and ponder and learn about some of this world’s more important issues, without making you feel like you’ve been hit over the head or preached to in too direct of a manner. As in all of the best films, the messages in “Railway Children” come through via the basic elements of storytelling and filmmaking: story, plot and character development, exposition, good plotting, good dialogue, a solid script, and strong, assured direction.

Matthews, to his credit, doesn’t let things get too dark or depressing, the violence is muted and barely seen, and he takes good, proper care to keep the film’s and the story’s focus squarely on the kids and their kid-centric view of the world. It’s interesting, and proper, that in this movie, all of the adults are, generally, secondary players, and it’s the kids who rule the story. And Matthews, knowing that he and his casting director have assembled a top-notch cast of young actors, follows his directing instincts and let’s his actors take over.

And what a cast of young actors! All of them steal the movie, as the best young actors tend to do when they’re acting well. Beau Gadsdon as Lily, Eden Hamilton as Pattie, Zac Cudby as Ted and Austin Haynes as Thomas all just shine from start to finish. Collectively, their performances show one of the more assured and enjoyable ensemble acting by a group of talented kids in ages. There are several scenes in particular among Beau, Eden and Zac where the siblings literally lean on each other, hugging and holding each other tightly, that are just heartbreaking and heartwarming at the time. Imagine being put on a train and being sent to the countryside and being separated from your parents as an horrendous, monstrous, hellish war consumes your hometown. However, once again, credit Matthews and Brocklehurst for not getting mired in downer, depressing moods and for properly maintaining an optimistic, positive atmosphere in this movie. Not everything, not every movie and not every war movie has to end in tragedy. There are, and there can be, happy endings in war tales and war movies. Despite their circumstances, in “Railway Children,” the kids–the lead characters and a bevy of other kids also transported to Yorkshire–maintain a mature, heroic positivity, assured that this damn war will indeed end soon, and that they and their parents will indeed meet again. That’s inspiring, too, and a wonder to watch and learn from.

And, yes, often, people separated by war do indeed meet again. Sometimes, a war movie does indeed deserve a happy ending.

Looking after the likeable kids is an equally likeable troupe of adult Waterburys, superbly acted by a cast of veteran actors who all know how to complement, accompany and support their younger acting cohorts. Smart adult actors know that when they’re acting alongside incredibly talented, charming and adorable kid actors, well, just step back, don’t get in their way, let them create and act and evolve, and just share the scenes as graciously and professionally as you can! To their credit, that is exactly what the adult actors do in “Railway Children.”

Leading the adult actors is veteran British actress Jenny Agutter, who herself knows a thing or two about childhood acting. Agutter, who is 69 years old now, has been acting in film, television and theater since she was eleven years old. In “Railway Children,” she plays Bobbie Waterbury with a regal, but still approachable and likeable, nature. Equally likeable are Sheridan Smith as Bobbie’s daughter Annie and Tom Courtenay as Uncle Walter. Together, they work together and band together to support, guide and look after these children of war. These adults, too, have been touched by war, but they are wise, caring and insightful enough to let these kids be kids and to shower them with as much care, kindness, love and support as they can.

Rounding out the main cast is KJ Aikens as the American soldier, Abe McCarthy. He, too, bonds with the Watts and the Waterburys, as they try and help him out, too.

Now, Agutter has a most interesting history and connection with this film–and its predecessor productions. Technically, “Railway Children,” which is aptly titled “The Railway Children Return” in the United Kingdom, is a sequel to a 1970 film, “The Railway Children,” which told a similar story, but set years earlier, with the character of Bobbie Waterbury as a child. However, the 2022 film is not really a standard, conventional sequel, and the new film solidly, completely stands on its own. You don’t need to have seen the 1970 film to enjoy this film. And, yes indeed, Agutter played that child fifty-two years ago in that 1970 movie! The two films are based on the original 1906 novel by Edith Nesbit, “The Railway Children.”

Here’s where things get really interesting. Agutter previously starred in a 1968 BBC dramatization of the novel. Then, as noted, she starred in the 1970 film version. Then, she starred as the mother in a 2000 television version of “The Railway Children.” And, now, she’s in 2022’s “Railway Children.” So, all in all, Jenny Agutter has starred in four productions–two on television and two theatrically-released movies–based on the 1906 novel.

And great for her. The story is a fascinating, insightful, entertaining, positive and hopeful story. And Agutter has always been an engaging, likeable, talented–and, yes, beautiful and sexy–actress. If you remember “The Eagle Has Landed” (1976), Michael Anderson’s classic “Logan’s Run” (1976), “Equus” (1977), John Landis’ classic “An American Werewolf in London” (1981) and “The Survivor” (1981), you definitely remember Jenny Agutter.

And you will definitely remember, and enjoy and cherish, this new, stand-alone film from 2022, the thoroughly excellent “Railway Children.” War may be hell, yes, but often, amid the fog and tides and dogs of war, a bit of heaven and light emerges, the good guys win, displaced railway children are reunited with their parents, love conquers all, the war is over, peace is given a chance, and, yes, as Jenny Agutter and Bobbie Waterbury will testify, we will indeed meet again.

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