[Screen It]


(2022) (Beau Gadsdon, Eden Hamilton) (PG)

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Drama: Relocated to avoid the dangers of WWII, a trio of British siblings try to help a young American GI who's being hunted down by his own forces.

It's 1944, and with Germany bombing Britain's cities, a war widow sends her three children -- Lily (BEAU GADSDON), Pattie (EDEN HAMILTON), and Ted (ZAC CUDBY) - along with many other kids from Salford to the presumably far safer Yorkshire village of Oakworth.

There, the kids get a temporary foster family in the form of Bobbie Waterbury (JENNY AGUTTER), her adult daughter, Annie (SHERIDAN SMITH), and her grandson Thomas (AUSTIN HAYNES), and try to fit in with the locals. Things change, though, when the kids come across an injured American soldier, Abe (KJ AIKENS), who's hiding out at the local train station, stating that he's on a top-secret mission.

As all of them deal with real and potential losses related to the war, the kids try to help Abe who then finds himself hunted down by American MPs.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

I'll readily admit that I had a relatively uneventful, "Leave it to Beaver" sort of childhood growing up in the suburbs of Richmond, VA in the 1960s and '70s. Aside from a few instances of being bullied and often being chosen last or next to last for sporting teams at school, I can't really complain. That's especially true as compared to other kids then as well as in other times and locations that have had to contend with poverty, crime, and even war.

For instance, back during WWII, British children not only had to deal with German bombings, but millions of them were also evacuated from their families and city life to live in the countryside. While they were safe from such bombs, for the most part, the emotional stress of being separated from their families no doubt took a toll on their mental well-being then and likely many years later.

The film "The Railway Children Return" touches on that, loss, and even racism as it focuses on a trio of siblings -- young teenager Lily Watts (Beau Gadsdon) and her younger sister, Pattie (Eden Hamilton), and younger brother, Ted (Zac Cudby) -- who are sent by their war widow mother -- along with other local kids -- from Manchester to the railway village of Oakworth in the Yorkshire countryside.

There, they're taken in by matriarch Bobbie Waterbury (Jenny Agutter), who lives with her school headmistress daughter Annie (Sheridan Smith), and that woman's early teenage son, Thomas (Austin Haynes). Despite being chosen last among the new arrivals, they assimilate fairly easily and quickly into their foster home and community, with tomboy Lily having no problem putting some local boy bullies in their place.

Things change when the kids come across a young American G.I., Abe (KJ Aikens), who's wounded and informs the children that they must not reveal his presence as he's on a secret mission. As he's an African American during the 1940s, we the viewers know that's likely not the case and it's eventually revealed that he's gone AWOL to avoid violent racism at the hands of white American MPs.

The rest of the plot -- as penned by Danny Brocklehurst -- then revolves around them trying to help him avoid being found, captured, and likely something far worse, all while they and pretty much everyone else in the story have to contend with one form or another of war-related loss. And with that -- and as directed by Morgan Matthews -- the film follows in the footsteps of other children's literature showing kids dealing with such deep thematic matters while thrust into unusual situations.

The result likely won't be confused with being a masterpiece by anyone, but it's a decently engaging tale told in the form of a children's story, so it should work decently with its target kid audience. And for anyone wondering about the "Return" part of the title (since it should more accurately be "Depart" or "Arrive"), it stems from this sort of/very loosely being a sequel of sorts to "The Railway Children."

That was a 1970 film -- that I have not seen but was an adaptation of the 1905 E. Nesbit novel of the same name -- about a family forced to move to a railway town in the English countryside, with the oldest of the three siblings being named Bobbie. And to bring things full circle, she was played by a young Jenny Agutter who reprises the role here, albeit obviously as an adult, with her even briefly mentioning the connection to the earlier tale.

I doubt many people will realize that (I certainly didn't until reading it), nor will they likely remember much about this offering down the line. But in the moment, it's a decent enough tale to hold one's interest and remind many, including yours truly, that they had it pretty easy growing up. "The Railway Children Return" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Posted September 23, 2022

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