Greetings again from the darkness. We probably need more family-style movies covering serious topics and worldly events in a style that makes it amenable for kids to watch and learn. I tried to keep that in mind while watching this film from director Morgan Matthews (A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND, 2014) and co-writers Daniel Brocklehurst and Jemma Rodgers. It should be noted that it also serves as a pseudo-sequel to the classic 1970 film directed by Lionel Jeffries, which was adapted from the beloved novel by British author Edith Nesbit.
An opening at the Train depot in 1944 finds many mothers tearfully hugging their kids goodbye as they help them board. It’s war time and parents will do anything they can to protect their offspring – even if it means an unknown future and the chance they will never see them again. We follow three particular siblings: Lily (Beau Gadsdon), the eldest; Pattie (Eden Hamilton), clever but not as old as she wishes; and Ted (Zac Cudby), the youngest. The three are from Salford and headed towards the safer countryside, where bombs aren’t as likely to rain down.
Upon arrival, the kids are taken in by Roberta “Bobbie” Waterbury (Jenny Agutter) and her daughter Annie (Sheridan Smith). Ms. Agutter reprises her role as “Bobbie”, which she played in the original film some 52 years ago. She’s now grandmother to Annie’s son Thomas (Austin Haynes), who quickly bonds with the new arrivals. Annie is also the local schoolmistress charged with making sure the kids keep up with their studies.
Lily carries the weight of being the oldest child, and the others look to her for direction when they stumble upon Abe (KJ Aikens), an injured young American soldier gone AWOL. He’s hiding out in a disabled train car, and no one knows what to make of him, other than they want to help. This is the “serious” side of the story, and it’s balanced with often silly-type sequences. As an example, the new kids are out of their element with farm life, and of course, we get the pratfall of slipping in the mud, followed by the giggles.
Tom Courtenay appears as the mysterious Uncle Walter, while John Bradley is the station master. Homages to the original include Lily dreaming of seeing her military dad through the steam of the locomotive, and we see the local kids banning together to create signs and noise to stop a passing train. The aspects of racism are a bit heavy-handed, but not to the extreme of the overly dramatic, and at times, overbearing music (meant to generate viewer reaction). It’s easy to dismiss the film as fluff due to it’s “after school programming” feel, but again, that is purposeful, and through young eyes, it should work.
In theaters now.