The Railway Children (U)

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The Independent Culture

Forty years since its first release, the sprightly charm of this Edwardian idyll still endures. It's also a timely tribute to director Lionel Jeffries, who died in February, aged 83.

Adapting from E Nesbit's story, he manages to conjure both a sense of innocence and adventure as a mother and her three children leave London under the shadow of their paterfamilias's arrest and settle in reduced circumstances near a railway village in Yorkshire (not that reduced – their cottage is beautiful, and they keep a servant). The condescension towards stationmaster Perks – Bernard Cribbins plays the comedy prole – rather dates it, and the dependence on all-powerful benefactor "the old gentleman" is Dickensian wishful thinking. But the performances make it irresistible: Dinah Sheridan as the sensible, consoling mother, Sally Thomsett as toothy middle-child Phyllis, and – deep breath – Jenny Agutter as the grave, tactful Bobbie, whose red petticoats are as iconic in their way as Marilyn's billowing dress on the sidewalk grate. I only noticed this time round what a lovely speaking voice Agutter had. Her reunion with her father (Iain Cuthbertson) on that steam-shrouded platform brings a tear to the eye – for their happiness, and perhaps for our own lost childhood.

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