The Railway Children sequel gets premiere at original Yorkshire station

By Ian Youngs
Entertainment & arts reporter

  • Published
Jenny Agutter and train driver Nicholas Hallewell on a train at Oakworth station
Image caption,
Actress Jenny Agutter with train driver Nicholas Hallewell - who also appears in both films

Stars of The Railway Children sequel have taken the trip to the station from the original film, where the follow-up's world premiere was held on Sunday.

Fifty-two years after the classic came out, Jenny Agutter reprises her role as Bobbie in The Railway Children Return.

She said returning to Oakworth station in West Yorkshire for the new film was like "going right back in time".

Agutter was joined by her new co-stars Sheridan Smith, Sir Tom Courtenay and John Bradley at the station.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Agutter and Smith (back) with the sequel's new generation of railway children
Image source, Jaap Buitendijk/Studiocanal
Image caption,
Agutter and Smith with the young cast in The Railway Children Return

The sequel is set almost 40 years after the first film, with Roberta, known as Bobbie, now a grandmother who takes in a new set of children who arrive on the railway - evacuees fleeing World War Two bombs in Salford.

"It's really lovely when something comes around again, and in a different way," said Agutter, 69, who played Bobbie in the beloved 1970 family film and a 1968 TV series.

They were both based on E Nesbit's novel, which was set in 1905 and followed a family who were forced to move from their wealthy life in London to a run-down cottage in Yorkshire when the children's father went to prison.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Sally Thomsett, Jenny Agutter and Bernard Cribbins in The Railway Children film

For the sequel, Agutter and the writers filled in the story of what her character had gone on to do, given the changes in British life.

"She would have been definitely a suffragette," Agutter said, speaking at the station, which was also a filming location for the follow-up.

"Probably a magistrate. Very involved with young people and social issues and making these changes. The feminism through it is really interesting from 1905 to 1944."

Agutter, who is also known for playing Sister Julienne in the BBC's Call the Midwife, added: "I think Nesbit would have approved. I think she would she would love to see it carry on and the story carry on."

Image caption,
Agutter and Smith pose for photos at Oakworth station

The sequel includes numerous nods to the original film, as well as replicas of memorable props.

"When I was taken to the set, they had created a home that was filled with Roberta's childhood memories - the little paper theatre, the train that Peter would have had, lots of things that I was really deeply touched by," said Agutter.

"I mean, it was like stepping back. It felt like a part of my life."

This time, Beau Gadson plays the eldest of the new generation of railway children, the feisty Lily.

Image caption,
Fans lined the station entrance to get a glimpse of the cast

Despite being born almost four decades after the original film came out, she says she was a fan before she went up for the part in the sequel.

"It's a British classic. I had to have seen it. I've read all the books. I've even seen the theatre production where a real steam train came in."

Gadson, who played the young Princess Margaret in The Crown, said Agutter "helped us a lot" during filming.

"She was great to have on set," the 15-year-old said. "I mean, the original Bobbie coming down to this station again? It was amazing."

Image source, Jaap Buitendijk/Studiocanal

The new film brings in Smith as Bobbie's daughter, and Game of Thrones actor Bradley as the grandson of Bernard Cribbins' stationmaster Mr Perks.

After interviews and photographs at Oakworth station, the cast boarded a steam train to a screening in Keighley.

Writer Danny Brocklehurst said they tried not to think about risking the legacy of such a well-loved film.

"When we were writing, we weren't sat there with the original on our shoulder, thinking, oh my gosh, we must honour this enchanting beloved classic.

"It was like, let's do a new film that tells a story about new characters - evacuees in the Second World War.

"We very much wanted to keep to the spirit of the original and keep some of the themes and the tone of the original, but bring it to a new audience with a new story."

Image source, Jaap Buitendijk/Studiocanal
Image caption,
John Bradley plays the new Mr Perks

The film's Yorkshire-based producer Jemma Rodgers first came up with the idea for the sequel, and a strand of the story about black US soldiers stationed in the county being attacked by US military police officers.

That was based on a true incident in Bamber Bridge, Lancashire, where soldiers and military police got into a gun battle in 1943, leaving one of the soldiers dead.

"Because of my own mixed heritage, I was very interested in stories about black people before Windrush in the UK," Rodgers said. "And I came across the story of Bamber Bridge, which I had never heard of before."

The real-life trouble arose after the white American military police and officers tried to impose racial segregation in the town.

"The villagers said, we're not doing that here. And they did the opposite - they put signs up in the window saying, 'Only black troops allowed and locals'," Rodgers explained.

"One night, there was a fight with the MPs [military police] and it was awful. Sixteen people got arrested, somebody got shot.

"But the thing that was really inspiring to me was that the locals fought with the black GIs. They just saw unfairness. They didn't see colour."

In the film, which is released on 15 July, Pose actor KJ Aikens plays a character who is discovered by the children after being targeted by military police.

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