The Railway Children
(1970) and Swallows and Amazons
(1974) are perfect bedfellows: two classic children's novels, simply and faithfully adapted for the big screen. Together they evoke a poignant nostalgia for the periods in which they are set--Edwardian and 1920s England, respectively--and for the childhood of anyone who has grown up watching them. Sentimentality reigns, of course, but it's never cloying. The truthfulness of the juvenile performances, balanced with restrained sympathy from the adults, sees to that.
Flourishing under Lionel Jeffries' delicate direction, Jenny Agutter dominates The Railway Children as the oldest daughter of a family thrown on hard times when their father is wrongly sent to prison. They avert a train disaster, save an imperilled steeple chaser and reunite an exiled Russian with his wife, all with equal enterprise. Happy endings prevail after every crisis. And no number of repeat viewings can ever diminish the impact of father's return. One of the most expert tear-duct work-outs in film history, it hits the spot every time.
Perhaps the lack of such a pivotal scene has kept Swallows and Amazons in the relative shade. But its gentle appeal survives with equal charm, not least in the resourcefulness of the eponymous children and the period detail. Together this pairing makes a double bill to treasure, and a piquant reminder that Disney doesn't have a complete monopoly on the rich heritage of children's cinema.
On the DVD: The Railway Children and Swallows and Amazons is presented in standard 4:3 picture format, from so-so prints, and with acceptable mono soundtracks. Both films envelope the viewer in a comforting Sunday-afternoon haze. There are no extras, apart from scene indexes. --Piers Ford
A children's classic double bill. An adaptation of E. Nesbit's children's classic, 'The Railway Children' follows the fortunes of a group of Edwardian children whose father is wrongly jailed for treason. Exiled with their mother to a life of genteel poverty on the Yorkshire Moors, they are soon drawn to the railway at the bottom of the garden, and all kinds of adventures. 'Swallows and Amazons' is a classic children's adventure yarn based on the Arthur Ransome book. The story recounts the adventures of a group of children who call themselves the Swallows, after their boat, as they holiday in the Lake District during the 1920s. There, they meet two piratical sisters, known as the Amazons, who have already claimed the waters for themselves.