The Railway Children (1970)

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Released 2-Dec-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Family Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1970
Running Time 104:39
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Lionel Jeffries

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Dinah Sheridan
Bernard Cribbins
William Mervyn
Iain Cuthbertson
Jenny Agutter
Sally Thomsett
Gary F. Warren
Peter Bromilow
Gordon Whiting
Ann Lancaster
Beatrix Mackey
Deddie Davies
Christopher Witty
Case ?
RPI ? Music Johnny Douglas

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Released in 1970, I must have been eight or nine years of age when I first saw The Railway Children, and promptly fell wholeheartedly in love with it. I recall receiving as a treasured gift a book illustrated with pictures from the film, and I'm sure I nearly wore out those pages. Now, 34 years later, I was delighted to reacquaint myself with this charming story, and, by default, indulge in all the cozy nostalgic feelings it provided.

     In Edwardian England, three children live an idyllic life, much loved by their doting parents. Roberta, or Bobby (Jenny Agutter) is sensitive and slowly emerging from childhood towards womanhood; Phyllis (Sally Thomsett) is a daffy, lovable sprite; and brother Peter (Gary Warren) is a train-mad lovable rogue. Their perfect and comfortable existence is shattered one Christmas, when some gentlemen come to call and mysteriously take their father (Iain Cuthbertson) away.

     Their mother (Dinah Sheridan) begs them to not press her further for details about their father's disappearance, announcing instead, rather overbrightly, that they will now "play at being poor" - moving to a cottage in Yorkshire.

     Estranged from every comfort and convenience, the children set about exploring their new world. Encountering the nearby railway line, they imagine being able to send their love to their father, via the train tracks, and they begin waving enthusiastically at the passing coaches. In so doing, they catch the eye of one regular traveller, an elderly gentleman with a kind face (William Mervyn), who becomes accustomed to looking out for the trio. The three children become firm friends with the Station Porter, Albert Perks (Bernard Cribbins), and even the local doctor (Peter Bromilow) is impressed with this fine family. When the children's mother becomes ill, their poverty makes the children desperately search for help, which comes from the kindly gentleman. However, their mother is mortified and chides her children that they are poor, but certainly are not beggars.

     In spite of their penury, the family endear themselves to their local community with their willingness to help wherever possible. Their particular care of a Russian émigré is wonderfully touching, and the mother's ministry to a young paperchaser with a broken leg completes a full circle of compassion with the old gentleman. The children add to their stature in the locals' eyes when they alert a speeding train to a landslide that has covered the tracks. They are feted as heroes and awarded merit prizes, to the sounds of a (very) erratic local brass band.

     When Perks donates some magazines and newspapers to Bobby she discovers an article that reveals her father's fate. Her mother confirms that he has been incarcerated under charges that he revealed state secrets. Bobby is crushed by the realisation that it may be a very long time before she sees her father again. Maturity descends upon the young girl as she grapples with the harshness and unfairness of life.

     The closing scenes of this film are still potently touching. (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Feeling some unbidden desire to be alone, young Bobby finds herself drawn to the deserted railway station. She watches, detached, as a train pulls in. Clouds of steam and smoke billow over the platform, and slowly, through the vapours, the figure of a man materialises. Incredulous, Bobby focuses intently upon the man as his features begin to take shape. "Daddy, my Daddy!" she cries and runs into the arms of safety and love from which she's been so long denied. It is unashamedly sentimental, and still managed to moisten the eye of this nostalgic reviewer.

     There is a gentle sweetness to this film that I still found monumentally appealing after all these years. It's a genuine holiday for the senses - joyful and innocent, with the surety of happy endings and the conquering power of love. Highly recommended.

     This disc comes as a double feature with Swallows And Amazons.

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Transfer Quality


     This transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 16x9 enhanced.

     The presentation is rather soft with high grain levels, but there is detail aplenty in both the highlights and the shadows.

     The colour range renders skin tones very well, and is generally quite rich and warm.

     This transfer does have significant dust spots and there is mild motion blur, but it's indicative of the age of the original stock.

     This is a dual layered disc, but the layer change is between the two features (this disc includes Swallows and Amazons as well) and consequently does not interfere with the presentation.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The soundtrack is delivered in English Dolby Digital 2.0 from a mono source.

     The dialogue is quite pristine, and there are no significant audio sync problems. There are no subtitles.

     The film score by Johnny Douglas is sentimental and warm as tea and toast.

     There is virtually no sense of direction in the audio, and the subwoofer is nonexistent. There are occasional distortions and pops throughout the production.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     The menu is static with theme music from Swallows and Amazons.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

      There appears to be no difference in extras between R1 and R4 (or lack thereof) so I'm going for the PAL presentation.


     E. Nesbitt's book about three children learning about life has been faithfully transferred to the screen in this charming and sentimental classic. If you've seen it before, you may, like me, very much enjoy a return visit. If you've never seen it before, this is just the ticket for an hour and a half's balm to the soul.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
Speakers fronts-paradigm titans, centre &rear Sony - radio parts subbie

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