Taking its cue from books such as Lord of the Flies, Jason Figgis’ The Railway Children is set nine months after a virus seems to have wiped out all of the adults. Set in a Dublin of damaged homes and roaming children, the story revolves around two sisters who are looking for safe haven amidst the ruins. Older sister Evie (Catherine Wrigglesworth) comforts and calms her younger sister Fran (Emily Forster) on their journey by continuously reading the novel The Railway Children out loud. This is a connection to their past lives as their mother would read the book to them. They move from place to place meeting up with groups of other children who are attempting to replicate a version of their parents society. It is this forming and re-forming of alliances which form the backbone of director Jason Figgis’ story.
The film opens with a quite beautiful title sequence. The sound is all radio static, with bursts of music, easily conveying that something is seriously wrong. The visual motif to accompany this is of a block of derelict flats which has window covers with pictures of people living normal lives on them. This is then followed by a familiar, if nicely used, news footage to get the exposition of how the virus spread out of the way before the main story begins. This whole sequence is quite impressive and conveys quite a lot of information in a short space of time. Directly after this, we cut to 9 months later.
It is here where the films contains both its main strengths and weaknesses. The story set in remote Dublin suburbs has an eerie feel that seems to suggest that all the houses around have fallen quickly into disrepair. This would seem to be a nice nod to the ghost estates that have sprung up around our country after our economic collapse. The film is at its most effective when the children are talking about what happened to them as the virus hit. These conversations lead to flashbacks that are quite brilliantly done, especially considering the low budget. They are dark, scary and blackly funny and it is here that Figgis feels at his most confident.
Unfortunately, in the present, aside from teenagers arguing with each other over boyfriends, food rations etc, there is no real sense of threat. The worst seems to have past as there appears to be no undead element to contend with. What this leaves is an absence of tension and this leads to the main problem with the film. There are too many teenage characters with their own speaking parts and back story that it is, at times, difficult to tell them apart. Less characters and dialogue would immediately improve the situation while some wordless scenes of threat would genuinely up the tension. There are simply too many similar characters to care about any of them as they all seem too concerned with their own problems. This is understandable from the characters’ points of view but it can make watching draining at times. This is compounded by the running time of 1 hour and 46 minutes. To compare, see One Hundred Mornings which, whilst a different film in tone it covers similar ground in less than 90 minutes. Some pruning could make this film much more effective.
For a low budget end of the world film, Figgis has done quite well here. He has a keen eye for framing scenes and the opening sequence and flashbacks are excellent. Some tidying up of the main story would certainly make this a much more interesting film. The acting is about average for a film with a low budget, ranging from merely ok to decent. Particular praise must go to Emily Forster as Fran who is excellent throughout. Director Jason Figgis is definitely one to keep a look out for in the future.