Like the original Railway Children Lily (Beau Gadson) and her younger sister and brother, Pattie (Eden Hamilton) and Ted (Zac Cudby) Watts are sent by their mother to the Yorkshire village of Oakworth. But this trio are evacuees, escaping the bombing in their native Salford. And who are they billeted with but ‘Bobbie’ Waterbury (Jennie Agutter), the eldest sibling from the earlier story and now a grandmother. Now a widow living in the village with her daughter, Annie (Sheridan Smith), and grandson Thomas (Austin Haynes), perhaps remembering her own experience Bobbie welcomes the newcomers with open arms, eager to help them feel at home with country life.
And just as Bobbie and her siblings did all those years earlier, the children find adventure in the countryside, as they hang out in a deserted railway carriage.
The film also introduces a contemporary note but one that is faithful to the facts of the period, when they find and befriend a black teenager Abe (KJ Aikens) hiding out there.
At first they think he must be a German spy, but it turns out he’s a soldier on the run from the American Military Police, who in real life were notorious for their bad treatment of young black soldiers.
As far as the adult actors are concerned, they are there primarily to support the children. Strongest dramatic opportunities go to Smith, worried sick about the fate of her husband, who is away fighting the Nazis. Agutter is there primarily to give us a nostalgic connection to the earlier film and Tom Courtenay as her brother in law, to dish out a bit of sage advice to the youngsters. But it is the children’s film.
Gadson at thirteen is already a seasoned actress, with several films and tv series behind her, including playing the young Princess Margaret in The Crown. She has a lively screen presence and looks set for a promising career. Haynes as Agutter’s grandson though is also a bit of a young force to be reckoned with as is Aikens as the refugee soldier.
The film has a good sense of the period – scenes at the beginning set in Salford railway station of mothers saying goodbye to their evacuee children are particularly poignant – and while evoking memories of the first film, this one has a narrative strength of its own.
As a bonus there’s an effective cameo appearance from fine actor Hugh Quarshie as the American general who brings the story to a positive conclusion.