The Railway Children (w/ Swallows & Amazons) Review

In their house in London, the three Waterbury children - Bobbie (Miss Jenny Agutter), Phyllis (Miss Sally Thomsett) and Peter (Master Gary Warren) - live a blissful existence with the love of both of their parents, a coterie of staff and the contentedness that comes with wealth. One Christmas, having enjoyed the pantomime, carved the turkey and watched the snow settle on the street outside their windows, they sense an ill omen when the model steam train Peter received as a present from their father breaks down. As their dog runs out of the house never to be seen or heard from again, a black horse drawn carriage pulls up outside and there is a knock at the door. Bidding the two men welcome, Charles Waterbury and his wife (Iain Cuthbertson and Dinah Sheridan) leave the children to their presents and meet quietly in the study. It is to be their last meeting that day as the two men bundle Charles Waterbury out of his home, ordering their driver to take them to Scotland Yard.

The weeks that follow are lonely and out of sorts, with the children desperate for news of their father but finding that no one will speak of what happened. Eventually, their mother moves with them from London to rural Yorkshire where they spend long days playing in the fields and in the village of Oakworth. However, they are drawn to the railway line that runs through a valley near their home and to the station, where they meet and befriend the stationmaster Albert Perks (Bernard Cribbins). But, gentle though this is at first, there is an unimaginable amount of excitement awaiting them and, in the guise of a gentleman (William Mervyn) on a passing train who waves to them in return, someone who will come to change their lives.

The Railway Children is an enormously well-regarded British film, capturing within its hundred or so minutes what would appear to be the very essence of British life. London, as it is presented here, is a quite marvellous city with beautiful parks, quiet streets and little noise but for the clack of hooves on cobblestones. Appearing to be near neighbours to the Banks family of Mary Poppins, the Waterburys lead a most wonderful life with everything having the sheen and sparkle of Christmas. As Bobbie, who narrates The Railway Children, explains, they were happy but didn't quite know how happy until their circumstances changed. And change, when it came, was sudden indeed.

What happens to the Waterburys is the arrest of their father, who has been accused of selling state secrets to the Russians. The book, if not the film, explains that Charles Waterbury was something in the Foreign Office and after his being bundled into the back of a horse drawn carriage, neither his wife nor their staff will mention him again. Bobbie, being inquisitive, aims to discover what happened to her father but finds no one willing to speak of it, not, one suspects, out of shame but out of a desire to spare Bobbie, Phyllis and Peter the heartbreak of hearing their father spoken of as a spy. Instead, Mrs Waterbury moves them out of London where they can be survive reasonably well on what little she makes selling stories and where they be at more than an arm's length from the chatter of the city.

Expecting Yorkshire to be very dull and backwards - the rude coachman who directs them to their new home on that first evening doesn't make for a good first impression - the three children soon find that there are many adventures to be had, more even than in London. Calling at the railway line each day, at first they just wave to the passing trains gladdened with what little excitement there is to be had when someone waves back, but there are all manner of adventures ahead. The first sign that Yorkshire mightn't be quite so dreary as they first expected is when they get to know Perks, the station master. From there, it's a letter passed to the kindly old gentleman who'd first waved at them asking for his charity and on to a subsidence of land, a sick Russian (Gordon Whiting), a lad whose broken leg is stuck on the track and their rallying round to give Perks a birthday to remember.

Like Swallows And Amazons - as well as Johanna Spyri's Heidi, Eleanor H. Porter's Pollyanna and Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden - the magic in The Railway Children is in its mix of high adventure and charm, displaying the fun that children can have as well as how they can bring out the best in adults. Innocent, touching and hugely enjoyable, The Railway Children is rightly considered a classic film, with not even the frequent showings of it on television able to dim its brilliance.


Anamorphically presented in 1.66:1, this is still a very ordinary transfer with Optimum doing no more than is necessary to release The Railway Children on DVD. There is a noticeable amount of wear and tear on the print and no detail in the picture to speak of, which, though sometimes intentional, leaves it looking much softer than one would expect of DVD. It does appear, then, that little care was taken over this transfer of The Railway Children, which, given how fondly remembered it is, is something of a disappointment.

The DD2.0 Mono soundtrack is fine, though, and does what's required of it, if no more. The dialogue is clear, the sound effects pitched at the right volume and it all sounds very convincing. There are, however, no subtitles.


There are no extras on this DVD release of The Railway Children.


Released in a two-disc pack with Swallows And Amazons, The Railway Children is the better of the two and the one that is more likely to appeal to an older audience. Occasionally quite thrilling and with an ending that will have tears being shed, this really ought to have enjoyed a better release on DVD than as part of a two-disc set, no matter the value that that represents. Ideally, The Railway Children ought to have been treated to a Special Edition, with contributions from the surviving cast members, a retrospective on the BBC adaptations and, given that it's out of copyright, a .pdf version of the book (which is available online at The Gutenberg Project). Unfortunately, that's not to be so you can console yourself with this two-disc set of enjoyable children's classics that, good though they are, look very ordinary.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:43:02

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