THIS weekend the stars of The Railway Children Return will pull into Oakworth Station for the world premiere of the film.

Jenny Agutter, Sheridan Smith, Sir Tom Courtenay and other cast members will arrive on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway ahead of the screening at Keighley Picture House.

The film makes a nostalgic return to the heritage steam line, which was famously used in Lionel Jeffries’ The Railway Children in 1970. For Jemma Rodgers, producer of The Railway Children Return, there were two dealbreakers for the sequel to work. One was Jenny Agutter, who happily agreed to return as Bobbie, now a grandmother taking in young evacuees in wartime Yorkshire.

The other was the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway. One of the first people Jemma contacted about the film project was Noel Hartley, operations manager of the KWVR.

“I had a meeting with Noel whilst I was writing the story. I went to meet him in Haworth, in 2018, to sound him out about how he felt the railway would want to do this,” recalls Jemma. “He said, ‘We’ll support it 100per cent. We’ll do everything we can.’ He took me to look at all the trains that were age-appropriate, because we talked about using the Old Gentleman’s train, and the Green Dragon from the original film. But they’re too old. I wasn’t aware until that point of the American Military train. He took me into the shed to see what they call ‘Big Jim’. And I just said, “Oh my God, this is fantastic! We have to have this train in the film!’”

Having discovered ‘Big Jim’ (which also appeared in 1979 film Yanks) Jemma devised a storyline to include the locomotive, which helped to formulate the GI aspect of the story. In the film the children find a young American soldier hiding in a shed, with an injury.

Because the idea of a sequel to The Railway Children would have caused such excitement in the area, Jemma and Noel had a code name for their project - ‘The Whale’.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The KWVR once again has a starring role The KWVR once again has a starring role

“We were delighted to be involved,” says Noel. “I was involved in having a look at the script and suggesting places on the railway we could use for locations. From those conversations, quite a number of changes were made to the script. We introduced the brake van to them, which they chose to use as the kids’ hideout. We used some of the original locations from the first film, like the place where the train was stopped and Oakworth station in particular, which is just so iconic.”

One of the scenes which recalls Jeffries’ film is a heart-stopping moment when a child stops a steam train by stepping onto the track - a nod to the original red petticoats scene when Bobbie waves a makeshift flag to stop a train colliding with a fallen tree.

“We have a train coming towards a child on the track and the child is wanting to stop the train,” says Noel. “In the original, they did a shot where they filmed it in reverse, so the train reversed away from Bobbie on the track. One of the complications with filming the shot in reverse is how the steam looks going back into the locomotive, which wouldn’t look very good. For that reason, in the original film they use a close shot where you don’t see any of the steam.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The famous red petticoat scene in the original filmThe famous red petticoat scene in the original film

“What we wanted was to be able to see the locomotive in all its glory. It was interesting how you can now overlay a shot of a child on the track without the train onto a different shot of just the train, safely creating a dramatic scene of a huge powerful steam train approaching a tiny child!’’

Says director Morgan Matthews: “Noel and his team were always on hand to answer the questions. They know exactly what the upholstery would be on a train carriage of that period, and whether this carriage would go with that carriage - all of that kind of thing. That gives you real confidence.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The heritage railway has been preserved and run largely by volunteers since 1968The heritage railway has been preserved and run largely by volunteers since 1968

Noel 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 sequel.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Sally Thomsett and Jenny Agutter with Bernard Cribbins at Oakworth Station Sally Thomsett and Jenny Agutter with Bernard Cribbins at Oakworth Station

The Vintage Carriage Trust provided period-appropriate carriages, along with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Trust. Nick Hellewell, who appeared in the original film as a fireman, reprises his role, alongside his daughter, Fran Hartley, who is now one of the few female engine drivers on the network.

Recalling the original, Nick says: “It was glorious weather, just the same as we’ve had filming on this location. I was driving the engine the day the children did all the waving from the fence - Jenny Agutter, Sally Thomsett etc all waving to us. It’s lovely to see it go full circle.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Gary Warren, Jenny Agutter and Sally Thomsett on the historic railway Gary Warren, Jenny Agutter and Sally Thomsett on the historic railway

Returning to locations of the original was relatively easy, since many key locations remained preserved and unchanged. “In the original film it’s more period-correct for 1944 than for 1905,” says Jemma. “So the livery on Oakworth we didn’t have to change at all, because it was perfect for this film.”

The team revisited the doctor’s house - the Bronte Parsonage Museum - as well as Haworth’s church hall. Salts Mill was used for the American base that Abe, the young GI, escapes from and the interiors of Three Chimneys were based at the rail shed in Oxenhope, while Keighley station became Salford train station for the evacuation scenes.

“It helped that we didn’t have to create these environments,” says Morgan. “So often now, with a period film, the environments are largely created, or certainly significantly enhanced via digital effects. We have hardly done that. The trains and locations are real, and it adds to that sense of realism and authenticity.”

* The Railway Children Return is in cinemas from July 15.