Saturday, 14 August 2010

In praise of small things- part five - three little words

The title of this post might well, all on its own, send you running for the hills. So let me apologise first for any inadvertent nausea caused by my feckless choice of words. Let me assure you that I have no intent to write a soppy elegy based on an overused germ of endearment and then, if you're still with me, let me clarify what I really mean.
When I was a kid I was an avid reader - I've written here before about my love of reading. My weekly trips to the library didn't only get me out of the house, they gave me a ticket to somewhere else entirely. The books I loved best were always those where I could imagine myself as one of the characters. I practically lived in Narnia during the months I worked my way through the Chronicles. I spent weeks imagining the tiny world of The Borrowers that might exist under our floorboards, dreaming that one of the borrowers might slip out from behind a skirting board to befriend me. And I spent hours dancing around the bedroom - a floating ballerina from any number of books about an ordinary girl who makes it as a ballet dancer.
So, imagine the impact when I first saw a film that moved me as much as a book. 
I must have been around ten or eleven, when I was taken to see Lionel Jeffries' adaptation of E. Nesbit's The Railway Children. For those of you who aren't familiar with the plot, it's the story of a family who move to a house in Yorkshire, when their father is wrongfully imprisoned for selling state secrets to Russia. There are three children - Roberta (Bobbie), Peter and Phyllis, who pass the time playing by the railway, watching the trains and waving to the passengers. They become friends with Albert Perks, the station porter, and with an Old Gentleman, who they see regularly on the 9.15 train to London. The children enjoy a series of adventures, all loosely connected with the railway, while their mother sits stoically writing children's stories to keep them supplied with buns for tea. Eventually, the Old Gentleman is able to help prove their father's innocence and at the end of the film, the family are reunited.
I was one of three children, and although I was the middle, rather than the eldest daughter, I was often deemed the 'sensible' one, so it really didn't take much imagination for me to become Bobbie, marshalling my siblings through a series of mishaps.
I've lost count of how many times I've seen the film - it's rolled out on TV almost every Christmas, and I have DVD copies of both Lionel Jeffries' original and a later made-for-TV version. 
And although, as I've grown older, I've sometimes wondered about the way that poverty and class are portrayed in the story, the film has always been able to hold me spellbound. 
This week, Philip, Megan and I took a trip into town for the biggest treat. 
With amazing foresight, some clever and imaginative person had decided to turn the abandoned Eurostar terminal at London's Waterloo station into a theatre. We walked from the hustle and bustle of the main station at rush-hour, through the metal and glass surroundings of a modern international railway terminal, towards a black-curtained entrance. As we stepped past the curtains, we were transported to another world. 
Leather luggage trunks were piled up along the station platforms, a cream and gold footbridge arched across the track and ahead of us sat the station-master's house complete with white picket fence. Banks of seats had been set up each side of the track, and as we took our places, passengers dressed in full Victorian costume began to emerge onto the platforms, mixing with and talking to the audience.
For the next two hours, I sat in wonder as The Railway Children was brought to life. I was drawn in just as much as the little lad in front of us, who stood on tiptoe throughout, craning his neck to see every bit of the action.
And most fantastically, because it was a real railway station, with real train tracks, they were able to use a real proper steam train, with shiny green and gold paint, a tall black chimney and the actual Old Gentleman's carriage that was used in the film. 
And there was steam. Which is important. And which brings me back to the title of this post.
You can probably tell by now just how much I love this story. Most especially, it's the scene at the end, where Bobbie feels drawn to go down to the station. People are behaving oddly and we all begin to understand what is about to happen. But she hasn't realised it yet. 
A train pulls in, the passengers dismount and then the train moves on, leaving clouds of steam billowing across the tracks. As the steam clears, Bobbie sees the figure of a man slowly taking shape at the end of the platform. After a moment's hesitation, she begins to run towards him, with a heart-melting cry of 'Daddy......my Daddy'. 
It's those three words that get me. Every single time.


16 comments:

Philip said...

That, madame, was truly magnificent. Thank you.

Elisabeth said...

I want to see this film after your wonderful review. I've heard of it but now's the time. Thanks, Sharon.

Mr London Street said...

Sharon, I think this is one of the your finest posts so far. Loved it.

Pat said...

The children are now long in the tooth but the film never ages or loses its charm.

Liz said...

That sounds fantastic. And I can just see the boy on tiptoes watching. May have to look for that movie. (I spent far too much time reading the Hardy Boys.)

Mrs Jones said...

I can't actually watch the film anymore because those three words at the end just make me sob - dammit, I'm filling up now just writing about it....

Mr London Street said...

Check my blog out. You've won something.

Shruthi said...

Here from MLS. Haven't watched this film, but I just might after this :)

Penny Dreadful said...

I've never seen it but will have to now. This made me want to have a little cry.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

MLS is right; this is lovely. I think certain films and plays that move us greatly when we're young, or when we see them for the first time, hold a great deal of power over us.

Jeannie said...

I've never seen nor heard of this book/movie so I had to read this post twice to get the full import. Let me just say that the second time through I was near bustin'-out tears at the end!! Wow, what an experience that must have been. I bet there wasn't a dry eye in the theater-station :-/.

Well done and congratulations! :-)

Penny Dreadful said...

Ooh look, I read this when you first wrote it! I really wish I had seen it at Waterloo, it must have been magical.

Sharon Longworth said...

Gosh Penny - how very rude of me to not realise you'd already left a comment here - thank you for looking and commenting twice - that's more than generous.

Liz said...

Back when you originally wrote this, I had never heard of the Railway Children. Thought of you today when I saw this...

http://www.cbc.ca/arts/theatre/story/2011/01/26/railway-children.html

I can't believe I remembered! (Just don't ask what I had for lunch yesterday.)

Sharon Longworth said...

Liz, I'm flattered that you remembered this post. Please go and see this show if you get the chance - it's so lovely (even Philip thought so, and he's never quite understood my obsession with the film).

Oh - and what did you have for lunch yesterday?

Matt said...

Sharon,
Thanks for this post. Like you I'm a longtime devotee of the original (1970) film. I don't know where you are, but it seems as though you're in Britain somewhere. Here in the United States we can't buy this film -- the version that will play on DVD players in our zone is out of print. I've been despondent for years, lamenting that my oldest daughter might pass beyond that magical age before I could show it to her. Today, on a lark, I popped into our local independent movie rental place and asked about it, disclaiming the while that my hopes were not up. The clerk said they had the title and went to look, and I followed her through the warren of shelves of DVDs mumbling that it was not likely the original version. I was shocked when she pulled the Lionel Jeffries version out, and did a little dance. I've just watched it with my wife and daughters (8 and 3.5) and when the steam cleared at the end my tears burst forth afresh. I thought I'd tell you, since I knew you'd get it.