A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Railway Children is a classic of family cinema, especially in the UK where it was produced in 1970. Based on a 1905 children's book by E. Nesbit, it's an old-fashioned entertainment with positive messages and role models. The children behave bravely and responsibly in unfavorable circumstances. Eventually, after a few mild wrong turns, they begin to enjoy helping others and find that their rewards are tenfold. There's some mild violence and scariness, notably a maid slapping a boy, and the disappearance of a father and illness of a mother. There are a few jokes around drinking, and one possible sex-related joke, though very, very subtle. This movie may be a tough sell to the internet/video game generation (not to mention difficult to find), but families who sit still for it will find it hugely entertaining and rewarding.
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What's the story?
A family's wonderful life in London is upset when the father is suddenly whisked away for mysterious reasons, and the mother (Dinah Sheridan) is forced to move them to cheaper lodgings in Yorkshire. The children -- Roberta (Jenny Agutter), Phylllis (Sally Thomsett), and Peter (Gary Warren) -- begin to pass the time by waving to the passengers on the train as it goes by, and they become friendly with station porter Albert Perks (Bernard Cribbins). Over time, and in several mostly unrelated incidents, they learn to love their new home and the people in it. And some of the friends they make are able to help them in return.
Is it any good?
This movie is remarkably gentle and old-fashioned, but with several wonderfully unexpected touches. Adapted and directed by Lionel Jeffries, The Railway Children is perhaps better known in England than it is in the US. Both the British Film Institute and Time Out London chose it as one of the 100 greatest British films of all time.
Weirdly dreamlike sequences sporadically occur, as when Roberta (also known as "Bobby") celebrates her birthday and appears to drift through the room, or when a tree begins moving by itself. The score, by Johnny Douglas, is also quite delightful and highlights several tension-relieving comical moments. The drama could have been distressing, and/or grueling, but instead Jeffries treats it lightly by using a format of mostly unrelated incidents as well as themes of hope, resourcefulness, and helpfulness. The casting and performances are exceptional, and especially the three charming children, who are in almost every scene. This movie deserves to be better known.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how kids are depicted in The Railway Children. Do you think this is how kids acted in the old days? How is their behavior different than how most kids act today? Are kids in movies always portrayed accurately?
Is this movie more or less interesting because it was made many years ago? How can you tell that it's an older movie?
- In theaters: December 21, 1970
- On DVD or streaming: May 6, 2003
- Cast: Dinah Sheridan, Gary Warren, Jenny Agutter, Sally Thomsett
- Director: Lionel Jeffries
- Studios: Anchor Bay Entertainment, Universal Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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