Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) is an odd duck. Obsessed by trains – a self described “enthusiast” – he is quiet, self contained, and religiously remembers time-tables. Suddenly into his life comes Patti (Nicole Kidman), who strikes up conversation with him, mostly about which station she’d need to change at. And just like that she’s gone, but Eric wants more, and tracks her down with his knowledge of schedules, and there’s a slightly awkward romantic reunion, and within no time, they’re married, and everyone seems happy. But cracks begin to appear in Eric’s normally reserved demeanour; clearly he has a great secret, some troubling past, and Patti determines to uncover it.
So begins The Railway Man from director Jonathan Teplitzky, screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson, adapted from the autobiography by Eric Lomax of the same name. Eric’s troubles are revealed to us through a series of flashbacks, narrated to Patti by Eric’s former service partner and friend Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard, Sam Reid in flashbacks) and the safety of the opening romantic scenes is quickly torn to shreds by what is to come (or has happened, technically).
It’s hard to discuss aspects of the film without presenting at brief timeline of some realworld facts:
- 1939, aged 19, Lomax joined the Royal Corps of Signals, prior to the outbreak of World War II.
- 28 December 1940, promoted to second lieutenant.
- February 1942, captured by the Japanese following the surrender of Singapore.
- In June of 1942, the Japanese begin a project to build a railway for supplies and troops to connect Ban Pong in Thailand with Thanbyuzayat in Burma, through the Three Pagodas Pass. Among the 60,000 Allied POWs forced to work on the line is a young Eric Lomax.
It’s also worth noting that the line had been surveyed earlier in the 20th century by the British government of Burma, but as the young Lomax (Jeremy Irvine) reveals with horror, it was abandoned because of the inhumane effort that would be required to complete it. It would come to be known as the Death Railway.
The conditions are awful, but the young officer and his fellow POWs are determined not to be broken, and keep their spirit of resistance alive by secretly scrounging the resources to build a crude radio to listen to news of the war. It seems to be working, and they do manage to catch a bulletin, but they are soon discovered, and Lomax nobly steps up, saving his cohorts from harsh beatings or worse. And is savagely tortured for it by a young Imperial Japanese Army officer and interpreter, Takashi Nagase (Tanroh Ishida).
With Patti’s help, Eric is able to confront his part, for the sake of their future, culminating in a dramatic confrontation with Nagase (now played by Hiroyuki Sanada), “in an attempt let go of a lifetime of bitterness and hate”.
Many have drawn a contrast between The Railway Man and other well know film directly name The Bridge on the River Kwai (also from a book of the same name), but with the later a highly fictionalized account, often criticized for its lack of realism. The entire cast perform exceptionally, and the utter most reverence is given to this very serious subject. “War leaves a mark,” Finlay tells Patti; for Eric, the story is about whether the trauma of what has happened will consume him, or if he can come to some form of acceptance.
- The Railway Man is directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson, adapted from the autobiography by Eric Lomax. It stars Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Stellan Skarsgard, Sam Reid, Hiroyuli Sanada and Tanroh Ishida.
- Autobiographic War Flashback, with PTSD.
- The Railway Man premiered in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, and opens here on Boxing Day.
- Cinemas, prices vary.
A PREVIEW OF “THE RAILWAY MAN” CAN BE SEEN AT THE MOONLIGHT CINEMA ON SATURDAY 21 DECEMBER – BOOKINGS CAN BE MADE HERE