Fans of Lionel Jeffries's classic 1970 film The Railway Children will be delighted to see Jenny Agutter reprise her role as Bobbie Waterbury in the upcoming sequel The Railway Children Return – and it turns out another star of the original was also almost cast in the new film.
Director Morgan Matthews and star John Bradley explained during exclusive interviews with RadioTimes.com that Bernard Cribbins was at one point set to reprise his iconic role as station master Albert Perks, before those plans sadly had to be shelved.
"There certainly were conversations about Bernard coming back to play the station master," said Matthews. "Not necessarily a working station master, but he would still have a role at the station and be connected to it.
"And we would have loved to have had Bernard back. But at the time – I mean he's in his 90s – sadly his wife was unwell and he wasn't able to join us."
"I mean, it was a bit of a saga really," added Bradley. "Because there was talk of Bernard reprising the role for a while and for various reasons that didn't work out, sadly.
"So it was just a case of... for a while it was Bernard could do three days and then you'll do a couple of days, but slowly but surely it became clear that Bernard wasn't going to do it at all."
But even if Cribbins was sadly unable to play his part, the spirit of his character very much lives on in the new film through Bradley's character Richard – who is the grandson of Albert Perks.
"That's when I realised that the character I'm going to play, Richard, has functionally sort of the same practical function as the part would have been if it was Bernard playing it," Bradley said.
"So it was about looking at Bernard's performance and trying to work out what traits of that character can be passed on down the generations really.
"And for me, it was all about, you know, the conscientious attitude to work, discipline, and diligence, but not wanting to be made a fool of and quite a soft, spiky defensiveness.
"And I think that it's perfectly legitimate, that those traits can be passed on from father to son, and then to grandson. So it was a glorious mix of being inspired by Bernard and having such a blueprint to draw from but getting to create my own little character as well."
Matthews added that Bradley was "very much evoking the spirit of Perks in that role" – even if his relationship with his grandfather is never mentioned in the film itself.
"Even though that connection and that family relationship isn't made explicit in the film – because if children are watching they wouldn't necessarily know who Perks was – just having a bit of his essence was really important and I think good for John to have that kind of grounding," he said.
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