Transport of delight
The Oldie Magazine|December 2020
Fifty years after The Railway Children film, Kate Garner makes a pilgrimage to the Yorkshire steam railway where it was made
Kate Garner

It was the red flannel petticoat that did it! As I watched Bobbie avert imminent disaster by ripping up her petticoat, creating a makeshift flag and bringing the steam train to a halt, I was left wide-eyed and open-mouthed. What a heroine … though she then rather spoilt it by fainting on the railway.

I was totally entranced by the gloriously sunny and gentle world of The Railway Children. This classic was released 50 years ago, in December 1970 – and it remains a favourite film of my generation.

The story, based on the 1906 book by E Nesbit, tells of three children and their mother leaving their comfortable London home to live near a country railway, in mysterious circumstances.

It takes some time for the viewer to learn of their father’s wrongful imprisonment on suspicion of his being a spy, selling state secrets.

Their new home, Three Chimneys, is different from what they are used to – dirty, tumbledown and rat-infested. But the children adapt to their new impoverished life, making friends with the stationmaster Mr Perks and waving to passengers on the passing trains.

It is a gentle tale of friendship, family and love, with the children involved in escapades: rescuing a boy trapped in a tunnel; helping a lost Russian gentleman; finding ways to make ends meet when their mother falls ill; celebrating Mr Perks’s birthday; and the eventual discovery of their father’s alleged crimes.

That leads to the need to clear his name and secure his release. The film draws to a close with the memorable ‘lump in the throat’ scene of the swirling smoke, slowly clearing from the station platform to reveal Bobbie’s father (Iain Cuthbertson), ending with her immortal line, ‘Daddy, my daddy.’

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