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WGBH Boston Video presents
The Railway Children (2000)

"How long can you remember someone you really love, even if you're desperate to, if you don't see them, or hear their voice?"
- Bobbie (Jemima Rooper)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: October 21, 2002

Stars: Jenny Agutter, Jemima Rooper, Clare Thomas, Jack Blumenau, Gregor Fisher, Richard Attenborough
Other Stars: Clive Russell, Michael Kitchen, Valerie Minifie, Melanie Clark Pullen, Georgie Glen, Amanda Walker, David Bamber, Jane Wood
Director: Catherine Moreshead

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:43m:17s
Release Date: October 01, 2002
UPC: 783421365193
Genre: family

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Growing up in the 1960s and '70s, my childhood was enriched by the family programming available that could be enjoyed by any age group, without the sex, vulgarity or violence commonplace today, yet not in such a juvenile manner that adults found them boring or childish. While many may have been forgotten over the years, some left an indelible impression, like The Railway Children, with only the provocation of viewing this recent remake to bring memories flooding back to me.

Jenny Agutter, probably best known for her roles in Walkabout, Logan's Run and An American Werewolf in London, first became involved with The Railway Children as the eldest daughter Roberta, for the seven-part, 1967 television series aired by the BBC. In 1970, she reprised the role for Lionel Jeffries' feature adaptation (recognized by the British Film Institute as one of the 100 best British pictures of the twentieth century), which marked a turning point in her career. Agutter returns, this time to take the role of Mother, for this 2000 television movie adaptation, directed by Catherine Morehead, produced by Carleton Television and airing as part of PBS' Masterpiece Theatre.

First published in 1906, Edith Nesbit's The Railway Children was based on her childhood memories of Halstead Hall in Kent, where she spent three years of her adolescence. Set in turn-of-the-century England, the story follows the adventures of three children—Bobbie, Phyllis and Peter—brought by their mother to live in the Yorkshire countryside after their father (Michael Kitchen) is taken away under mysterious circumstances. The move also represents a marked change in their financial status, as the bulk of their belongings are sold off and the servants dismissed, The family takes up residence in a large but somewhat run down manor, with even the price of coal to heat the house too dear. With their mother trying to earn an income from writing, the children discover the local railroad line, and routinely wave to the passengers on the "Green Dragon" as it passes by on its way to the station, where they have also befriended the porter (Gregor Fisher) and station master (Clive Russell). The railroad holds a wondrous fascination, and many a drama will play out along its tracks, but what the children hope for most is the return of their father, whose enigmatic disappearance may be explained with the help of a kindly old gentleman (Richard Attenborough) who rides the rails.

I found this remake to be extremely enjoyable, with all of the elements that made shows like this from the past so cherished. The production presents the period well, from the housing to costuming. The story is charming, filled with the romanticism and naïveté of a child's perspective; capturing the innocence and optimism of youth, including Attenborough's Santa Claus-like persona, who would be a far cry from any real-life railroad baron. The children stumble into all manner of misunderstandings, though their intentions are honorable, leading to unexpected results. The script is witty without going overboard, the drama palpable without being over done. The acting by the young cast is superb. Jemima Rooper gives Bobbie the sense of burgeoning maturity as she moves toward adulthood. Clare Thomas delivers a spunky younger sister, and Jack Blumenau, the slightly mischievous and ever adventurous Peter. Combined they prove an impressive force upon the adults, including mother Agutter, who form the background characters.

The disc is presented with both the Masterpiece Theatre introduction and epilogue. The only thing I found a little out of place were the closing comments on the author's unconventional private life, which aren't really appropriate for a family viewing experience. This minor issue aside, I heartily recommend this wonderful film for those who long for fine, entertaining drama the whole family can enjoy.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: While the opening and closing segments are full-frame, the movie itself is presented in a 1.85:1 nonanamorphic widescreen transfer. Image quality is quite good for a television movie, though a bit soft. Colors are generally presented well, capturing the deep burgundies, woody browns and mossy greens nicely, and blacks are solid with reasonable shadow detail. Grain is light, except in some of the night shots, and especially in large areas of dark blue. There is no sign of edge enhancement, though there is some aliasing in places.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Stereo audio is presented well, with full frequency coverage and directionality creating a dynamic soundstage. Dialogue is clear and easy to discern, and there were no technical deficiencies noted.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Film-related extras are almost nonexistent, with only a cast list present. Combined they prove an impressive force upon the adults who form the background characters, and are equally excellent in their performances.

A 5-image poster gallery for other Masterpiece Theatre presentations, and a list of web sites, including The Railway Children's official homepage, where the interviews listed on the cover can be found. Additional advertising and ways of obtaining a WGBH catalog are also included.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

The Railway Children is a delightful, dramatic adventure, harkening back to the good old days of family entertainment. Young and old alike can revisit an era when the railway held a fascination in the minds of children; when along its rails, there was always something to discover. This production does the story proud, with exceptional performances from its cast. It is a heartwarming tale that belongs in every family collection. Highly recommended.


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