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The Railway Children is a 1970 British drama film based on the novel of the same name by E. Nesbit. The film was directed by Lionel Jeffries, and stars Dinah Sheridan, Jenny Agutter (who had earlier featured in the successful BBC's 1968 dramatisation of the novel), Sally Thomsett and Bernard Cribbins in leading roles. The film was released to cinemas in the United Kingdom on 21 December 1970.

The Railway Children
DVD cover
Directed byLionel Jeffries
Produced byRobert Lynn
Screenplay byLionel Jeffries
Based onThe Railway Children
by E. Nesbit
Narrated byJenny Agutter
Music byJohnny Douglas
CinematographyArthur Ibbetson
Edited byTeddy Darvas
Distributed byMGM-EMI (UK)
Universal Pictures (USA)
Release date
  • 21 December 1970 (1970-12-21)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£500,000[1] or £300,000[2]

The film rights were bought by Lionel Jeffries. It was his directorial debut, and he was also responsible for writing the screenplay for the film. The Railway Children turned out to be a critical success, both at the time of its release and in later years.


The story follows the adventures of the Waterbury children, who are forced to move with their mother (Dinah Sheridan) from a luxurious Edwardian villa in the London suburbs to "Three Chimneys", a house near the fictional 'Great Northern and Southern Railway' in Yorkshire, as their father (Iain Cuthbertson), who works at the Foreign Office, has been imprisoned as a result of being wrongly accused of selling state secrets.

The three children, Roberta (Bobbie) (Jenny Agutter), Phyllis (Sally Thomsett) and Peter (Gary Warren), find amusement in watching the trains on the nearby railway line and waving to the passengers. They become friendly with Albert Perks (Bernard Cribbins), the station porter, and with the Old Gentleman (William Mervyn) who regularly takes the 9:15 down train. Meanwhile, to earn money to survive during her husband's absence, Mother writes and sells stories to magazines.

They have many adventures, including saving the lives of dozens of passengers by alerting a train to a landslide, rescuing a Russian dissident, Mr Szczepansky, and uniting him with his family, and caring for Jim, the grandson of the Old Gentleman, who is injured whilst participating in a paper chase. Finally, Bobbie discovers the truth of her father's absence and appeals to the Old Gentleman for his help. He is eventually able to help prove their father's innocence, and the family is reunited.

The film contains one of the most famous scenes in British films when Roberta (Bobbie) (Jenny Agutter) see her father emerge from the steam on the railway station platform and shouts to him, "Daddy, My Daddy!" before running to embrace him.


End creditsEdit

The entire cast break the fourth wall and perform a curtain call as the credits roll. The camera moves slowly along a railway track towards a train which is decked in flags, in front of which all of the cast are assembled, waving and cheering to the camera.

At the start of the credit sequence, a voice can be heard shouting "Thank you, Mr Forbes" as an acknowledgement to Bryan Forbes, who put up a security for the film to be completed.[citation needed] Meanwhile, Jenny Agutter holds up a small slate on which "The End" is written in chalk and says "Goodbye" as the credits conclude.


Early AdaptationsEdit

The novel was adapted for radio in 1943.[3]

It was serialised for television in 1951, as a part of Children's Hour. Jean Anderson starred.[4] It was adapted for television again in 1957, and in 1968 in a seven-part series. Jenny Agutter starred in the latter.[5]


Lionel Jeffries read the book for the first time when he was returning to Britain by ship from the US to film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in which he appeared as an actor. He had lost his own books and borrowed The Railway Children from his 13-year-old daughter Martha (he had two other children). He loved it, although he admitted "my personality is so different from the quiet romance of the story."[2]

However he said "I found the climate of the... story just right for me, a way in which to start entertaining people and help not destroy our industry. There are hardly any films being made for children and for middle aged and older age groups. I thought this could be one."[2]

He bought a six-month option on the film rights for £300 and wrote a screenplay. "I've kept to the story," said Jeffries. "It would be an imposition not to – after all, E. Nesbit's survived 50 years."[1]

Jeffries succeeded in attracting financing from Bryan Forbes at EMI Films who was interested in making family films.[1] Forbes suggested Jeffries direct.[6] "I knew there were slight bets among the technical staff as to how long I'd last," said Jeffries later.[2]

The film was part of Forbes' initial (and, it turned out, only) slate for films at EMI.[7]

Jeffries later said "I knew we were taking a big, calculated risk in swimming against the permissive mainstream with such a story. All I could do was make it as honestly as possible: a Victorian documentary."[2]


Sally Thomsett was cast as the 11-year-old[i] Phyllis, despite being 20 years old at the time. Her contract forbade her to reveal her true age during the making of the film and she was also not allowed to be seen smoking or drinking during the shoot.[8] 17-year-old Jenny Agutter played her older sister, Roberta, and Gary Warren played their brother, Peter. Agutter had previously played the same role in the 1968 BBC Television adaptation of the story.[9] Dinah Sheridan was cast as Mother, and Bernard Cribbins as Perks the porter.

Jeffries admitted he was tempted to play the role of Perks himself but eventually decided to cast Cribbins "because of his lovely calm comedy."[2]

Filming locationsEdit

Lionel Jeffries used the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, and its station at Oakworth, as the backdrop for the film, referring to it as the "Great Northern and Southern Railway".[10]

At the time of filming there were still very few heritage railways in Britain, and only the KWVR could provide a tunnel, which is important in a number of scenes. The tunnel is a lot shorter in reality than it appears in the film, for which a temporary extension to the tunnel was made using canvas covers.[11]

A number of working locomotives were used in the making of the film, including MSC67, 5775 (L89), 52044 (Preserved as L&Y 957) and 4744 (69523/1744), all of which survive. They were painted in fictional liveries for the filming; 5775 in brown, reminiscent of the Stroudley livery of the London Brighton and South Coast Railway, 957 in apple green, similar to liveries used by the North Eastern Railway, Great Northern Railway and London and North Eastern Railway, and 4744 and MSC67 in plain black, as used by most railway companies in Britain at one time or another. 67 is now at the Middleton Railway, Leeds, and 4744 is now with the North Norfolk Railway at Sheringham. 5775 and 957 are still on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. As of 2014, 4744 is the only locomotive that remains operational, As of 2019 Green Dragon 957 is undergoing overhaul at Haworth and 5775 is on static display at the Oxenhope Exhibition on Keighley and Worth Valley Railway having been repainted into the GN&SR livery.

A wide variety of vintage rolling stock was used in the film, including examples from the Metropolitan and London and North Eastern railways. Although different carriages appeared in different liveries, the dominant one is white and maroon, which is reminiscent of the livery of the Caledonian Railway. The most important carriage in the film, the Old Gentleman's Saloon, was a North Eastern Railway Director's Saloon, that has been used since in the stage production of the book. It and all the other carriages seen in the film are still at the KWVR, but tend to be used at special events only, due to their age.

A number of different locations were employed for various scenes. The house called "Three Chimneys" is in Oxenhope, just north of the Oxenhope railway station.[12] The Bronte Parsonage in Haworth was used as the location for Doctor Forrest's surgery.[12] The scenes of the children sitting on a bridge were filmed at Wycoller near Colne. Mytholmes Tunnel near Haworth, and the railway line running through it, were used extensively in the film, including being the location for the paper chase scene, as well as the one in which the children wave the girls' petticoats in the air to warn the train about a landslide. The landslide sequence itself was filmed in a cutting on the Oakworth side of Mytholmes Tunnel and the fields of long grass where the children waved to the trains are situated on the Haworth side of the tunnel. A leaflet, "The Railway Children Walks", is available from KWVR railway stations or the Haworth Tourist Information Centre.[13]

The scenes in the Westbury's London house before their move to Yorkshire were filmed at 4 Gainsborough Gardens in Hampstead, north west London.[14]


Box OfficeEdit

The film was the ninth most popular movie at the British box office in 1971[15] and recouped its cost in that country alone. It was one of the few financial successes of Bryan Forbes' regime at EMI Films.[16] By June 1972 it had earned EMI a profit of £52,000.[17]

Critical receptionEdit

Since its release, the film has received universally positive reviews, and holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on nine reviews.

Home mediaEdit

A 40th anniversary Blu-ray and DVD was released on 5 May 2010 with a new digitally remastered print. It includes new interviews with Sally Thomsett, Jenny Agutter and Bernard Cribbins. The planned commentary by director Lionel Jeffries was not completed due to his death in February 2010.

Awards and nominationsEdit

The Railway Children received three nominations for awards at the 24th British Academy Film Awards ceremony. Bernard Cribbins was nominated in the category of Best Supporting Actor. However, in a category also featuring John Mills, Colin Welland and Gig Young, the award went to Welland for his role in the film Kes. Sally Thomsett received a nomination for Best Newcomer in a Leading Role but again lost out to an actor from Kes, in this case David Bradley. Johnny Douglas was also nominated for the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music but the award was won by American Burt Bacharach for his film score for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.[18]


Hornby Railways produced a 00 gauge train set of the train from the film. It had a London, Midland and Scottish Railway 0–6–0 tank shunting locomotive in GN&SR livery with Synchrosmoke, two period coaches, an oval of track and a station.

Bachmann Branchline currently produces a 00 gauge train pack from the film, albeit a more accurate set. It includes a GWR 5700 Class locomotive in GN&SR's brown livery, two LMS Period I carriages in GN&SR's maroon and white livery, and a model of the Oakworth station building.

In 2010, to coincide with the 40th anniversary, a book was brought out called The Making of the Railway Children by Jim Shipley – a former volunteer station master of Oakworth Station. It detailed events that took place during filming and interviews from local people associated with it. In November 2012, a second updated version was printed with added information, in particular about Gary Warren who disappeared in the mid 70's after retiring from acting. He had been tracked down by a member of the Official Catweazle fanclub and the author had permission to write a more updated version of what had happened to him.

BBFC complaintEdit

In 2013, the British Board of Film Classification released a statement saying that they had received and evaluated a complaint about the film in that it encouraged children to trespass on the railway tracks. The BBFC noted that the children did trespass on the line, but only to warn an approaching train of the danger of a landslide on the track ahead. (They had, however, in an earlier scene walked along the track simply to get to the station.) The BBFC also pointed out that the film was set in Edwardian times when access to railway lines was not under the same restrictions as modern times.[19]


The film has left a lasting impression on the British film industry and audiences. In 1999, the British Film Institute (BFI) put The Railway Children in 66th place in its list of the Top 100 British films of all time. Five years later, the film magazine Total Film named it the 46th greatest British film of the 20th century. In 2005 the British Film Institute included it in their list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14. In 2008, the film made it onto Channel 4's list of the 100 Greatest Family Films at number 30, just ahead of Monsters, Inc. and just behind Men in Black and Ghostbusters. On 28 March 2010 the Bradford International Film Festival concluded with a new restoration of The Railway Children film with the 40th anniversary digital premiere.[20]

Jenny Agutter also starred in a new TV adaptation of The Railway Children in 2000 in the role of Mother. Much of the publicity for the 2000 film focused on Agutter's involvement in both films made a generation apart.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The children's ages are given in the original text as 12 for Bobbie and 10 for Peter, with Phyllis being younger than this.
  1. ^ a b c Bates, Merete (4 June 1970). "Look, no sex: MERETE BATES on the filming of 'The Railway Children'". The Guardian. p. 10.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Hutchinson, Tom (24 December 1970). "When my screenplay of the Railway Children was accepted". The Guardian. p. 8.
  3. ^ Radio Harrisson, Tom. The Observer 21 March 1943: 2.
  4. ^ WRITING NEW PLAYS Our Radio Critic. The Manchester Guardian 7 February 1951: 3.
  5. ^ The week's television The Observer 5 May 1968: 25
  6. ^ LIONEL JEFFRIES Hayward, Anthony. The Independent 20 February 2010: 44.
  7. ^ In the Picture Sight and Sound; London Vol. 38, Iss. 4, (Fall 1969): 181.
  8. ^ The 100 Greatest Family Films. Granada Television. 2005.
  9. ^ "The Railway Children". BBC Genome. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  10. ^ "screenonline: Railway Children, The (1970)". screenonline. British Film Institute. Retrieved 27 November 2009.
  11. ^ "Keighley and Worth Valley Railway". Haworth Village. Retrieved 2 June 2013.
  12. ^ a b "The Railway Children film locations".
  13. ^ "The Railway Children Walks". Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. Retrieved 2 June 2013.
  14. ^ "The Railway Children (1970)". Movie Locations. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
  15. ^ Peter Waymark. "Richard Burton top draw in British cinemas." Times [London, England] 30 December 1971: 2. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 11 July 2012.
  16. ^ Walker, Alexander, Hollywood England, Harrap and Stein, 1974 p 426-432
  17. ^ Moody, Paul (19 October 2018). EMI Films and the Limits of British Cinema. Springer. p. 83.
  18. ^ "IMDb: BAFTA Awards: 1971". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 27 November 2009.
  19. ^ "Railway Children Prompts Complaint". Telegraph and Argus. 11 July 2013. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  20. ^ "The Railway Children – Bradford International Film Festival 2010". [Yorkshire Daily Photo]. Retrieved 30 March 2010.

External linksEdit