Jenny Agutter: Why 'The Railway Children Return' is a film for now

Watch: Jenny Agutter shares why The Railway Children Return is still relevant

Children’s classic The Railway Children now has a sequel: The Railway Children Return, in cinemas Friday, 15 July. It's a new story, a new cast, and a familiar face with Jenny Agutter reprising her role of Bobbie from the original 1970 film.

Agutter, 69, tells Yahoo that the Second World War-set The Railway Children Return is more than just a sequel – it’s a film for now.

“Being able to look at the past, to look at 1905 [when E Nesbit’s The Railway Children was originally published], pre-First World War and then bring it to the Second World War allows you to see how the world’s changed,” she explained.

The Railway Children Return (Studiocanal)
Sheridan Smith and Jenny Agutter in The Railway Children Return. (Studiocanal)

“It’s important today to see how we’ve moved on, but we’re still affected enormously by those two wars and we’re affected by war again today. It’s a different time and it allows us to bring all those different periods together.”

Read more: The Railway Children cast then and now

Like the original, the film is set in the Yorkshire countryside, but the action shifts to the Second World War, with three young evacuees from Salford finding a new home with the local head teacher.

The children discover a runaway soldier hiding in the local train yard and, discovering he’s been falsely accused of cowardice, they set out to put things right and help him return home.

Watch a trailer for The Railway Children Return

And, while the film speaks very much to today’s audiences, there are numerous references to the original that will chime with anybody who’s seen it. Agutter’s co-star, John Bradley, who plays the local station master, believe the film works equally well on both levels.

“We tried to make it an homage, but also tried to update it to make it relevant to 2022,” the Game of Thrones star added.

“The script has a lightness of touch where those references are there if you know the original but it isn’t necessarily a prerequisite to getting something out of this film. We hope it’ll make people go back and watch the original again but this one stands up perfectly well as a film.”

The Railway Children Return (Studiocanal)
John Bradley in The Railway Children Return. (Studiocanal)

Those references extend to some of the actual characters — Agutter’s Bobbie is now a mother and a grandmother, Bradley’s Perks is the grandson of the original station master, played in 1970 by Bernard Cribbins, and Tom Courtenay plays a kind hearted uncle whose role echoes The Old Gentleman (William Mervyn) who waved to the children from the train over 50 years ago.

It was a role the veteran actor was more than happy to take on. “They just wanted a nice, kindly chap who was a politician and it worked out. I loved being in it.”

The filming of The Railway Children on location at Oakworth in West Yorkshire.  Actor Bernard Cribbins with actresses, Sally Thomsett (left) and Jenny Agutter.   (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
Bernard Cribbins with Sally Thomsett, left, and Jenny Agutter on the set of 1970's The Railway Children. (PA Images via Getty Images)

Bradley, on the other hand, used Cribbins’ performance in the original as inspiration for his own. “Bernard’s performance in the original is one of the most moving and touching and relatable pieces of acting I’ve ever seen,” he recalled.

“It’s just about using that as a blueprint and seeing what traits I could take from that character to make a new generation of the Perks family.”

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The Railway Children Return also stars Sheridan Smith, Beau Gadson, Austin Haynes and K J Aikens.

The original version of The Railway Children was released in 1970. Based on E Nesbit’s children’s classic from 1905, it was the directorial debut of actor Lionel Jeffries, and starred Agutter, Bernard Cribbins, Dinah Sheridan, Sally Thomsett, Ian Cuthbertson and William Mervyn.

The Railway Children Return is released in cinemas on 15 July. Watch a clip below.