During WWII, just after the fall of Singapore, a group of British soldiers were captured and transported as POW’s to work on the infamous Thai/Burma railway. The conditions and treatment of these men was notoriously cruel and inhumane and those who survived and returned home were never the same. To make matters worse, this generation of men were of the ‘stiff upper lip’ variety and so they rarely spoke of their experiences during the war. All the horrors they were subjected to and saw were kept tightly shut away as they tried to reclaim their former lives.
The Railway Man is based on the true story of English soldier Eric Lomax (Firth) who, with the help of some fellow POW’s, managed to build a radio which enabled them to receive news of the war. When the radio was found by their Japanese captors, Lomax, in an act of supreme sacrifice and mateship, stepped forward to take responsibility. For this ‘crime’, he was taken away for over 2 weeks and subjected to the most horrific of tortures.
His physical wounds healed but his emotional and psychological ones he locked away and tried to ignore. Clearly he is suffering what we now recognise as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but there was no help given or expected. these men simply went home and got on with it all. But as his fellow POW and life-long friend Finlay (Skarsgård) noted, some things that happen to a man as a POW are so shameful and humiliating, he simply cannot talk about it…..especially with someone he loves.
Over the years, Lomax becomes a train enthusiast, traversing the country collecting train memorabilia and obsessively memorising train timetables. One one such journey, he meets the mild-mannered Patti (Kidman) and the pair eventually marry. Soon she discovers just how broken a man Lomax is and in desperation, seeks the help of his friend Finlay.
Finlay informs her that the man who was complicit in inflicting the most vicious of tortures on Lomax, Japanese ‘interpreter’ Nagase (Sanada), is alive and working as a tour guide at the prison camp where the men were kept during their imprisonment. She has to decide whether to tell Lomax…..and sensing what he may be capable of, if she will stand by him no matter what.
Ultimately, she tells Finlay to tell Lomax and Lomax returns to Thailand to confront his tormentor.
This is a movie about the horrors of war, without doubt. We see young men valiantly fighting for and defending their country, doing what they think is right…… doing what they are told. We see the very best and very worst of human behaviours and endurance. It is about love, honour, mateship, duty, dignity…..any and all of the words we associate with those brave enough to step forward to defend their country.
Two men, who began as bitter enemies, are confronted with their past, present and future in one afternoon. It is tense and traumatic for both. Both Lomax and Nagase are suffering from their experiences …. can this unexpected meeting heal them both?
Firth is absolutely mesmerising as the boring, middle class man struggling with his terrible secrets. He is understated and quiet and the fact that such pain and suffering bubbles so close to the surface makes his performance even more compelling. Jeremy Irvine, who plays the young Lomax, is just as wonderful to watch. He brings to life the younger, more vibrant and brave Lomax, a stark contrast to his older self. Kidman is lovely but barely registers.
This movie belongs to Firth, Irvine and Sanada. It is not to be missed but be aware that it may be, and indeed was, traumatic to watch in parts.
4 out of 5 stars
Love Flick xx
Director : Jonathan Teplitzky
Starring : Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Hiroyuki Sanada, Stellan Skarsgård, Jeremy Irvine, Sam Reid, Marta Dusseldorp, Tanroh Ishida
Running Time : 116 minutes
Release Date : 26 December, 2013