Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Studio: Archer Street Productions
Stars: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgård
Based on the highly praised World War II POW memoir of Eric Lomax, The Railway Man is quiet but impactful.
Colin Firth stars as a British officer and railroad enthusiast who was captured as a prisoner of war by the Japanese in 1942 and, along with other Brit prisoners, subjected to horrific torture and abuse while working on the notorious “Death Railway,” the Thai-Burma railway.
The film itself begins years later, during the courtship and marriage of the tweedy, emotionally crippled bachelor and a former nurse (Nicole Kidman), who meet on a train and conjure memories of Brief Encounter. Soon after the wedding, Lomax’ repressed memories of the Japanese after the fall of Singapore come rushing to the surface in nightmares, fits of erratic behavior and misplaced rage that threaten to topple his sanity and his marriage. Refusing to be shut out, his patient, insistent wife, with the assistance of his best mate (Stellan Skarsgård), helps prod these painful memories back to the forefront and, in flashbacks, we meet the younger Lomax, played superbly by Jeremy Irvine, who almost supernaturally channels the younger Firth, as he is tormented by his captors. The waterboarding scenes alone are so harrowing, so convincingly torturous, that they ought to be mandatory viewing for the likes of Dick Cheney, Sean Hannity and their ilk.
With the past opened like a gaping wound, a special kind of revenge and reconciliation ensues. The film is well made and well acted. Director Jonathan Teplitzky (Burning Man) and Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson’s screenplay treat their subject and themes respectfully. Perhaps too respectfully and properly, because too much of the film plays as if it were observed through the wrong end of a telescope. As touching and adroit as Firth’s performance is, you wind up respecting The Railway Man rather than feeling it under your skin.