The Railway Children Return. PG, 99 mins. 3 stars
Back in the hazy days of my youth, our sleepy capital city of Canberra had but two television channels: the ABC and the other one. I try to explain to my son the concept of waiting months to watch something on TV, instead of just finding the thing you want to watch amongst the dozens of streaming and cable and free-to-air channels, but the concept is too foreign to the younger generation.
Back in those days, it seemed like there were only about two dozen movies that got repeated with such regularity they became, if not actual family favourites, at least very familiar. Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music must have screened at least three times a year each, and The Railway Children was another of those films that became very familiar to folk growing up in my generation.
Released in 1970 and set around the turn of the century, it followed a trio of city children who follow their mother to the Yorkshire countryside after their father mysteriously disappears.
Jenny Agutter was one of the three children, a formidable actress who would film Walkabout in Australia for director Nicholas Roeg the following year, and perhaps it was this link to our own country that forged such an interest in The Railway Children for Aussie kids of the 70s and 80s.
Ms Augutter is back for this sequel-of-sorts, The Railway Children Return, though she is now playing the grandmother to one of the film's children, and opening the doors of her home to a new generation of refugees from the big smoke.
It is 1944 and Britain's industrial cities are the target of regular bombing from German planes, and so a teary mum has put her three children - Lily (Beau Gadsdon), Pattie (Eden Hamilton) and Ted (Zac Cudby) - on the railway to one of the rural villages that has agreed to keep children safe until the raids end.
At the other end of the railway line, in the rural village of Oakworth, are Grandma Bobbie (Jenny Augutter) and her school headmistress daughter Annie (Sheridan Smith) and Annie's teenage son Thomas (Austin Haynes), overseeing the arrival of dozens of city children and a session at the local church hall where local adults or families are paired-up with the city evacuees.
When Lily and her siblings aren't chosen by any locals, Bobbie sees something of herself in these children, and she and Annie agree to take them on themselves.
While experiencing their first helping of rural chores - fetching chicken eggs from the barn - the children come across what they think is a German soldier, but who turns out to be a deserter American soldier, Abe (KJ Aikens).
This young man, an African American soldier who himself signed up under-aged, hasn't been able to cope with the racism shown him from his own fellow US soldiers, and he finds an understanding circle of friends in the three city children and Thomas, all of whom have found themselves on the receiving end of schoolyard bullies.
Lionel Jeffries' 1970 adaptation of E Nesbit's serialised 1905 children's story wasn't the first adaptation of the British classic - the BBC had made a mini-series two years earlier, also starring Augutter, and another 1999 version starred Richard Attenborough.
Screenwriters Daniel Brocklehurst and Jemma Rodgers have developed a screenplay in the spirit of the original, though this isn't much of a continuation of the original's storyline's barring a handful of references.
It is a perfectly fun family adventure for the upcoming school holidays, or parents looking to get the kids out of the house now that the world is warming up a bit.
Giving the film a rollicking Famous Five adventure of a musical accompaniment is Peaky Blinders composer Martin Phipps.
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