This summer, The Railway Children Return arrives in cinemas on July 15, inspired by one of the most beloved British family films of all time and starring Jenny Agutter, Sheridan Smith and Tom Courtenay. This enchanting and heart-warming adventure, set in 1944, tells the story of three evacuee children sent by their mother to the Yorkshire village of Oakworth, where they encounter an injured American soldier who, like them, is a long way from home.
Producer Jemma Rodgers knew there were two dealbreaker factors in making a sequel work; Jenny Agutter and the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway line – the location for the original Jeffries adventure. One of the first people she connected with was Noel Hartley, the operations manager of the KWVR.
“When I was first approached by Jemma with an idea to do a sequel to The Railway Children I think I took a sharp intake of breath,” Hartley says. “We were delighted to be involved. I was involved in having a look at the script and suggesting places on the railway where we could use for locations. We used some of the original locations from the first film in this one – like the place where the train was stopped and Oakworth station in particular, which is just so iconic.”
Hartley offered the KWVR headquarters at Oxenhope as a studio to the film company, interiors were built and filmed in the huge train sheds on site and many of the people who appeared in the original film reprised their roles in this new iteration. The Vintage Carriage Trust provided vintage period-appropriate carriages along with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Trust. Nick Hellewell who appeared in the original film as a fire man reprises his role on The Railway Children Returns alongside his daughter, Fran Hartley, who is now one of the few female engine drivers on the network.
Returning to all the filming locations of the original film was relatively easy for The Railway Children Return team – KWVR was a heritage site when Jeffries filmed in 1970 so many of the key locations remained preserved and unchanged.
The team revisited the doctor’s house located at the famous Brontë Parsonage in Haworth, as well as the parsonage church hall. Salts Mill in Saltaire stood in for the American army base and the interiors of Three Chimneys and Bobbie’s home were based at the rail shed in Oxenhope, while Keighley station became Salford train station for the evacuation of Manchester.
“It helped that we didn’t have to create these environments,” says director Morgan Matthews. “So often now, with a period film, the environments are largely created, or certainly really significantly enhanced via digital effects. We have hardly done that. The trains and the locations are real, and it adds to that sense of realism and authenticity.”
Matthews hopes that this film creates a renewed connection within families. “I hope people go and see it with their families. Maybe I’m being a bit misty-eyed and rose-tinted here, but I certainly remember, from my childhood, the big family films that everyone went to see in the cinema. It’s interesting that there’s some sort of commonality in the reasons why those films endure. Watching films with your children or your grandparents or your uncle or any members of the family – it’s a really important part of your experience as a child, a parent, or as a grandparent, or as an uncle or auntie or whatever – sharing that time together. I hope The Railway Children Return gives families that shared experience – something to connect with people on an emotional level.”
To find out more and book tickets visit www.TheRailwayChildrenReturn.co.uk