Film review: The Railway Man

Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman star. Picture: Contributed
Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman star. Picture: Contributed
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IT’s always a pleasant surprise when a scrupulously tasteful film stuffed with Oscar-winning talent manages to transcend its awards-bait status. The Railway Man is a film like that.

The Railway Man

* * * *

Based on the memoir detailing Scottish train enthusiast Eric Lomax’s harrowing experiences as a prisoner of war following Allied defeat in Singapore in 1942, it’s a modest film, and yet the way it deals with the pain that haunted Lomax (Colin Firth) gives it a cumulative power.

As the film has it, Lomax only began coming to terms with his scarred psyche after meeting his wife Patti (Nicole Kidman) decades later. Accordingly, The Railway Man begins as a romance. Marriage and a new life in Berwick-upon-Tweed follow for the couple, but the honeymoon period doesn’t last. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Eric won’t discuss what happened to him, forcing Patti to reach out to his fellow veteran Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård).

It is through his reminiscences that we see flashbacks to the abuse her husband, played as a young man by War Horse star Jeremy Irvine, suffered as he was put to work on the “Death Railway” in Thailand. The film doesn’t stint on showing this torture, but this provides context for the complex meditation on revenge that follows when Eric learns that one of his Japanese tormentors is providing tours of his former place of internment. It’s this development which really elevates the film, transforming it into a quietly powerful exploration of what it takes to truly forgive.