I’m pleased to say that this film is about evacuees from Salford. It’s a bugbear of mine that stories about evacuees practically always feature children from London, as if no other part of the country were affected. There’s been so much publicity about it that I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that the children concerned are sent to Oakworth – although much of the Oakworth village set is actually Haworth – where they’re billeted with the former Bobbie Waterbury, her daughter (the headmistress of the local school, referred to as “the head teacher” as kids today apparently can’t be expected to cope with the word “headmistress”) and her grandson.
The shots of the village and the surrounding countryside are glorious, and there’s plenty of Blytonesque running around in fields, having conker fights and collecting eggs from chickens. The plot wasn’t really very dramatic, though. It followed the original film in that the children helped someone in need and stopped a train, but the suspense and emotion weren’t really there. Maybe the scriptwriters focused a bit too much on appealing to a young audience demographic?
(Don’t read the rest if you don’t want any spoilers at all!)
I’d been expecting a spy story. Instead, we got a wartime racism story. It might have worked better in an adult film, but there wasn’t enough sense of menace here. It was obviously aimed at a young audience – I could have lived without seeing kids using the outside of a train as a toilet, and the remarks about farting, but, OK, I’m not really in the target demographic – and maybe that was why the fear of the military police just didn’t come across very well, despite the talk of our man possibly facing hanging if he were caught. The police just never seemed very intimidating. Also, it was hard not to wonder why no-one seemed to notice kids just disappearing from school in the middle of the day, or why everyone’s rations seemed to stretch so far that they could hold food fights and feed biscuits to their dog.
Having said all that, the racism story was historically accurate. We know that there were major issues over the segregation in the US Army, especially concerning black soldiers engaging with white British women: the film actually borrowed the true story of the Battle of Bamber Bridge, in which US military police attacked black soldiers drinking in a pub. The idea in this film was that a young black soldier had deserted as a result. He was discovered hiding out by the four children – the three evacuees, an older girl with a younger brother and sister, as in the original film, and their new pal, Bobbie’s grandson. It was then rather unconvincingly resolved (I won’t say how), and he was allowed to gallivant around the countryside and then return home to his mum, thanks to all the children stopping the train (but without red underwear) and the intervention of Ric Griffin from Holby City.
It was all right, and it was worth seeing for the shots of the countryside. And it was also lovely to see a film in which the Brits were the goodies. The liberal elite will hate that … which is probably a recommendation in itself. But don’t be expecting a classic, and don’t be looking for an unforgettable moment like the legendary “Daddy, my daddy” scene, or you’ll be disappointed. It’s OK, but it’s not great.