“The Railway Man” will trigger deep emotion in anyone who sees it.
Young people will wonder if it could possibly be true, and the answer is yes. Older people who heard as children about the Japanese building of “The Death Railway” from Thailand to Burma will be chilled because of its truth. It is a tribute to director Jonathan Teplitzky and to a fine cast that they have given us so few reasons to be skeptical. Instead, we are riveted.
You can well wonder why anyone would want to watch 2 hours of grisly torture from a distant war, and the answer is that it has the force of history because the principal characters are actual.
This is the true story of Eric Lomax (Colin Firth /Jeremy Irvine), a lover of railways who joined England’s Royal Corps of Signals when he was 20 years old. He was captured after the fall of Singapore in 1942, tortured brutally, and forced to work in horrific conditions with hundreds of other Allied prisoners building that railroad.
Eric used his communications skills to build a radio that brought news of the war from the BBC to his fellow prisoners. When the radio was discovered, he endured more torture that left him near death – hips and arms broken – for two days in the blistering sun. He spent the rest of the war in a disease-infested cell.
Years later, after a long first marriage, he met Patti (Nicole Kidman), a Canadian nurse, on a train. When Patti discovered the depth of her new husband’s emotional and physical damage, she did everything she could to help him become open to help in the hope of defusing it. Eventually, Eric Lomax returned to the Far East to confront the man who damaged him so badly.
You ask, “Is it a good movie?” The answer, as best I can manage, is that it is an ordeal that you will believe.
Nicole Kidman is appropriately restrained in a role that asks that she be serious and supportive of her husband. Colin Firth’s recognized intelligence and talent infuse Eric with great credibility. He makes Eric’s road to recovery a fascinating question mark.
The real stunner here is Jeremy Irvine who plays Eric as the young soldier he was in 1942. Looking extraordinarily like a younger Colin Firth, he ensures smooth transitions between past and present. Along with Kidman and Firth, Irvine uses notable restraint in an extremely difficult role. The three of them deliver extended torment in a remarkable act of old- fashioned storytelling.
The film is sufficiently disturbing that it sent me straight to a Google search of Eric and Patti Lomax where the material confirmed the bones of the story with the exception of one twist of dramatic license. Eric Lomax, who died before the film was released, came to the set with his wife and pronounced the film accurate. It is worth the discomfort you will feel.