Getting all steamed
up over Railway
Children

FOUR decades have passed since the adventures of three Edwardian children – Roberta, Peter and Phyllis – first charmed film audiences.

Since then, probably millions of families have gathered to watch director Lionel Jeffries’ classic The Railway Children film, with even adults trying to hide their tears towards the end of the heart-warming tale.

However, it now seems that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has received a first complaint about the U-rated movie.

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The moment which got the viewer steamed up was not when Jenny Agutter gasps “Daddy, my Daddy”, prompting a rush of uncontrolled emotion, but concerns that the film could encourage youngsters to play on railway lines.

However, the BBFC, which has classified movies for a century, points out that the film illustrates the dangers all too clearly and is set in a very different time.

The 1970 film, which stars Agutter, Bernard Cribbins and Dinah Sheridan, has been a festive favourite for many years and is widely regarded as one of the treasures of UK cinema.

The movie also helped put West Yorkshire’s Brontë Country on the map. Filming at picturesque locations such as Oakworth Station in Haworth was very much a community affair – with locals appearing in the film while others helped behind-the-scenes.

Based on the E Nesbit novel, the location of the heritage Keighley and Worth Valley Railway masqueraded as the fictitious Great Northern and Southern Railway.

The story chronicles the adventures of three children when they are forced to move from London to Yorkshire after their father is imprisoned having been – falsely – accused of selling state secrets.

The scene in which Bobbie, played by Agutter, rushes to embrace her released father on the platform at Oakworth station is imprinted on the minds of many.

But in some scenes the children are seen on the tracks, notably as they attempt to warn a train driver about a landslide, and rescuing a young boy who has hurt his leg in a tunnel during a paperchase with near-disastrous consequences.

The complaint about the footage is revealed in the BBFC’s annual report, which notes: “The correspondent was concerned that children may be encouraged to play on railway tracks as a result of seeing the film.

“While aware of the real dangers of such behaviour, the BBFC judged that it was very unlikely that The Railway Children would promote such dangerous activity.

“The Railway Children is set in the Edwardian period and trains and access to railway property are very different today.

“The film also demonstrates the potential harm to children if proper care is not taken.”

The most complained-about film of the year was The Woman In Black, which prompted 134 people to grumble that it was “too dark and unsettling” for its 12A certificate.

The BBFC report also notes that one of the factors had been that it starred Daniel Radcliffe, best known for his Harry Potter role, who would have attracted younger cinemagoers who may not have been prepared for the content.

Men In Black 3 also proved controversial, generating a hefty postbag with 50 complaints about either bad language, violence, horror or sexual innuendo.

Some felt a scene in which villain Boris The Animal and his girlfriend were kissing – including a sighting of his large tongue – was a “gross-out” moment unsuitable for a PG audience.

Director Lionel Jeffries, who died in 2010, chose the preserved Oakworth station as a principal location and today it remains a site of nostalgic pilgrimage for both steam railway and movie enthusiasts.

Star Jenny Agutter often returns for commemorative events.