During October 1999 the Bluebell Railway became a film set for Carlton's TV film of Edith Nesbit's classic "The Railway Children". The film was shown in the UK on Easter Day 2000, and in North America during November 2000. Such has been the interest caused by the railway scenes in the film that this web page has been created to provide information about the parts of the production which used the Bluebell as a location.
We also hosted, in conjunction with the Edith Nesbit Society, a charity fund-raising "Railway Children day" in May 2000, attended by many of the cast and production team, including Jenny Agutter, Clare Thomas and Jack Blumenau. Those of our locos and rolling stock which were used in the film were in public use, and the queue for autographs ensured that our guests were kept very busy and that the Cystic Fibrosis Trust consequently raised over £2,000 from the sale of books and videos donated by Carlton.
Photo (right): Peter (Jack Blumenau), Mother (Jenny Agutter), The Old Gentleman (Lord Richard Attenborough), Phyllis (Clare Thomas) and Bobbie (Jemima Rooper) with The Green Dragon (Locomotive 592) during the filming of Carlton's "The Railway Children". (Photo used with permission of Carlton TV)
Producer Charles Elton is quoted as saying:
"We're not 'remaking' the 1970 film, but making a film of the 1906 book, and in many ways we're trying to be more faithful to the original novel- for example we're including the canal scenes from the book, and also the scene when Bobbie gets trapped on the engine when she's taken Peter's toy train to be repaired. The project is really a labour of love for all of us.
"We looked at many different railways throughout England and we loved the Bluebell Line. It's so beautifully preserved and wasn't like a tacky tourist attraction, it's a working line. There is a long tunnel with lovely north and south entrances which will be perfect for a sequence when the boy breaks his leg. We wanted to find a railway with rolling stock and locomotives from the period and the Bluebell Line has the most incredibly preserved stock.
"Simon Nye has stayed very close to Edith Nesbit's book in his adaption but has brought something entirely fresh to it. The Bluebell Railway in Sussex is the perfect place to bring it all to life."
Photo (left): Gregor Fisher as Perks the Porter. (© Carlton TV)
One of the most frequently used locations in the film is the place from which the children wave to the trains, so befriending the Old Gentleman. A streach of line-side fence was replaced with a wooden one above Rock Cutting for these scenes.
Horsted Keynes station became "Mortonhurst" for the purposes of the film. The original book never actually specified a name (or even a location, although it was clearly within commuting distance of London). The ficticious Railway Company, The Great Northern and Southern Railway gives nothing away here either! A large heap of coal (with a wagon buried under it!) had to be provided in the up yard, for Peter's coal-stealing scene.
One of the most important location shots in the film was the landslide. This took place in the cutting near Three-Arch Bridge (photo left). Over a three-week period a sliding section of embankment side, complete with trees, was constructed on rails, just above the train in this photo, so that it could slide down and spill over a sleeper-built retaining wall. This was a once-only shot, and fortunately went perfectly.
One of the first scenes to be shot was the paper-chase through the tunnel. Steps had to be cut into the earth at each end of the tunnel so that the children could climb up from the cutting. Several Bluebell members were involved as extras in this scene, as "gangers" working on the track when the runners came through. The photo right (© Carlton TV) shows the injured runner being taken out of the tunnel. Apparently the 1970 film might well have been shot on the Bluebell as well, but at that time we hadn't got the tunnel available!
Perks Porter's room on the station used Horsted Keynes' own Porters' Room. Our own station staff, coming into the room on a weekend halfway through the filming were rather upset to find that their tea mugs were inside a cupboard which had a second "period" set of false doors nailed over the existing doors! Such are the problems of trying to operate a railway in the middle of a film set.
The Movies Online page for The Railway Children (2000) has links to further information about this film.
VideoDetective has a trailer video.
The Bluebell is in frequent demand as a Film and Television location.
Further details are available here.
There is a series of "Railway Children" Walks in our area on the WalkScene website
A full set of links is available on our links page.
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