×

The Railway Children

The new emotionally rewarding adaptation of E. Nesbit's children's book "The Railway Children" should come with a special warning to curmudgeons everywhere. It's not even Thanksgiving yet, and this low-key charmer succeeds in melting your heart by the time the final scene unfolds. It may not restore your faith in humanity, but it certainly bathes you in the milk of human kindness. Just don't switch back to the local news when it's over.

With:
Mother - Jenny Agutter Father - Michael Kitchen Bobbie - Jemima Rooper Peter - Jack Blumenau Phyllis - Clare Thomas Old Gentleman - Richard Attenborough Perks - Gregor Fisher

The new emotionally rewarding adaptation of E. Nesbit’s children’s book “The Railway Children” should come with a special warning to curmudgeons everywhere. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and this low-key charmer succeeds in melting your heart by the time the final scene unfolds. It may not restore your faith in humanity, but it certainly bathes you in the milk of human kindness. Just don’t switch back to the local news when it’s over.

This is the second adaptation of Nesbit’s story about a well-to-do turn-of-the-century family, forced to move to a small village and live under reduced circumstances when the father (Michael Kitchen) is mysteriously taken away by the police. In this new “Masterpiece Theatre” offering, Mrs. Waterbury is played by the lovely Jenny Agutter (“Walkabout,” “An American Werewolf in London”), who played the young daughter in the 1970 film version.

For many American auds, the sight of Agutter as a middle-aged woman may be a bit tough to take at first. But the actress is quite effective as the unwavering mother of three resourceful children, who has to earn a living by selling her stories to magazines.

The children, played with natural ease by Jemima Rooper, Jack Blumenau and Clare Thomas, are not your cookie-cutter tyke types either. They each bring a special spark to their individual roles, and are especially good at walking in the shoes of early 20th century characters, with the right mix of innocence and enthusiasm.

Gratefully, none of them are of the cloying, “Touched by an Angel” variety. They do come up with clever ways of helping their mom, but they never come across as annoying little saints.

Nesbit’s other eccentric village characters, Perks (Gregor Fisher) the Station Master (Clive Russell), Dr. Forrest (David Bamber) are all a good mix of sugar and vinegar. You can tell they are all getting fond of the Waterbury anklebiters, but they don’t get all gushy and falsely sentimental on you.

One of the pleasures of the drama is following the adventures of Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis by the railroad where they spend much of their time. Whether they are aiding a lost Russian exile, asking a kind railroad tycoon (Richard Attenborough) for help with their dilemmas, or preparing a surprise birthday party for one of their grown-up friends, it’s a blast to see them plan their way through the maze of their new country lives.

Surprisingly, the Carlton TV production falls a bit short in the photography and production design department. Perhaps we’re spoiled by the BBC’s usual high standards, but this charming children’s tale could have easily lent itself to higher cinematic values. One can only imagine the kind of visual magic helmers like Alfonso Cuaron (“A Little Princess”) or Agnieszka Holland (“The Secret Garden”) would have brought to the lush East Sussex locations.

But that’s only a minor quibble. Simon Nye’s teleplay and the solid acting are more than enough to convey author Nesbit’s kinder, gentler world. Viewers should also stick around for host Russell Baker’s closing words, during which he reveals some surprising biographical information about the author’s unconventional lifestyle.

Popular on Variety

The Railway Children

Telepic; PBS; Sunday, Nov. 12, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed in East Sussex, U.K. by Carlton Productions; executive producer, Jonathan Powell; director, Catherine Morshead; writer, Simon Nye, based on the novel by E. Nesbit.

Crew: Music, Simon Lacey; director of photography, John Daly; editor, Don Fairservice; casting, Laura Scott; production design, Tim Hutchinson; costume design, Howard Burden; sound, Simon Bishop. 90 MIN.

Cast: Mother - Jenny Agutter Father - Michael Kitchen Bobbie - Jemima Rooper Peter - Jack Blumenau Phyllis - Clare Thomas Old Gentleman - Richard Attenborough Perks - Gregor FisherWith: Melanie Clark-Pullen, Valerie Minifie, Georgie Glen, Clive Russell, David Bamber, Michael Gunn, Paul Trussell, Velibor Topic.

More TV

  • TV News Roundup: Netflix Drops Trailer

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Drops Trailer for Ryan Murphy's 'The Politician' (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix has drops the first trailer for “The Politician,” and “Killing Eve” adds two to its cast for season 3.  CASTING Harriet Walter and Danny Sapani, both alums of “The Crown,” are set to join the cast of “Killing Eve” for its third season. British writer Suzanne Heathcote, whose past credits include [...]

  • Lady Gaga

    Variety Earns 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Award Nominations

    Variety has received 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie award nominations for its coverage of the entertainment industry over the past year. The awards gala, which will take place at The Hilton Midtown in New York City on Oct. 30, celebrates publications that have demonstrated impressive investigative journalism, in addition to thoughtful digital and print design. [...]

  • Disneyland

    Disney Shares Slip Amid Reported Whistleblower Allegations of Inflated Revenue

    Sandra Kuba, a former senior financial analyst for Disney’s revenue operations unit, says she has filed a series of whistleblower tips with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging that the entertainment conglomerate repeatedly and systematically overstated its revenue for years, according to a MarketWatch report, by as much as $6 billion in a single [...]

  • Bob Bakish Joe Ianniello

    ViacomCBS Sets Board Members; Bob Bakish, Joe Ianniello New Deals Disclosed

    ViacomCBS has unveiled the 13 members of its board of directors and details of new employment contracts for president-CEO Bob Bakish and CBS chairman-CEO Joe Ianniello. The disclosure came Monday in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, six days after Viacom and CBS at long last set an all-stock merger agreement valued at [...]

  • Carrie Underwood, left, and Reba McEntire

    CMAs Make Hosting Change: Brad Paisley Exits, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire Are In

    The CMA Awards have had the most consistent hosting situation of any music awards show in television, but 11 years after installing Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood as the reliable faces of the telecast, even ABC and the Country Music Association have decided it’s time for a switch. Come Nov. 13, Underwood will return for [...]

  • Ava Max iHeartRadio Wango Tango, Portraits,

    Megan Thee Stallion, CNCO, Ava Max to Perform at VMAs Pre-show

    CNCO, Megan Thee Stallion and “Sweet but Psycho” singer Ava Max (pictured) have been added to the performer lineup at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. The three will take the stage during the VMAs’ red carpet pre-show, hosted by Terrence J and Nessa. Zara Larsson will join the two hosts as a special correspondent. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content