The Railway Man
(M) Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgård
1942. Tens of thousands of brave young soldiers become prisoners of war when Japanese forces overrun Singapore. Churchill calls it “the greatest disaster ever to have befallen the British Empire”.
Eric Lomax (Jeremy Irvine), a 21-year-old signals engineer and railway enthusiast is one of the men who has surrendered. Sent to work on the construction of the notorious Death Railway in Thailand, Lomax witnesses unimaginable suffering: men forced to hack through rock and jungle, beaten, starved and prey to tropical diseases.
He builds a secret radio to bring hope. As he whispers news of Hitler’s defeats or American advances in the Pacific, a thousand backs straighten and exhausted, desperate men resolve to survive another day.
When the radio is discovered, Lomax faces beatings, interrogation and worse. Barely surviving the war he returns home, like so many others, to a country unable to imagine what he and his comrades have been through. Haunted by the face of one young Japanese officer, he shuts himself off from the world.
And then one day, decades later, he meets a beautiful woman – on a train, of course. Patti (Kidman) makes him laugh for the first time. They court like teenagers and marry quickly. But on their wedding night Lomax’s nightmares return: the young Japanese officer dragging him back to the horrors of the past, insisting the war is not over.
Patti finds Lomax screaming on the bedroom floor. Humiliated and confused, he disappears within himself again, turning his silent fury on his wife, making her life unbearable.
She struggles to find out what torments the man she loves. Battling the code of silence that unites the former prisoners of war, she persuades the enigmatic Finlay (Skarsgård ) to tell her a shocking secret.
The Japanese officer who holds the key to what really happened to her husband is still alive, and Finlay knows where he is. Patti must decide: should Lomax, a man desperate for revenge, be given this information? Will she stand by him, whatever he does?
Australian Director Jonathan Teplitzy has taken Lomax’s book — written to begin the healing and reconciliation needed as part of the trauma he suffered – and fashioned a powerful and poignant film.
Some of the images of brutality will sit with you for a few days after viewing the film as they did me. My late grandfather was never able to talk about his experiences as a POW and so this film was a powerful experience to help understand how the trauma can come to define a persons personality.
Firth and Kidman’s performances are pitch-perfect. This is one of Kidman’s best performances to date. Her performance as Patti could have become one-note, but her genuine search for the answers to unlock her husbands pain are touching and heartbreaking. As husband and wife Firth and Kidman are both a joy to watch. An early scene on a train when they meet is peppered with playful flirting and genuine warmth.
Young actor Jeremy Irvine as the young Lomax during the war has the most difficult role in the film: to outline the brutal torture of Lomax at the hands of his captors. His performance is touching and credible and he seems to be able to impersonate Firth with ease.
Firth’s performance as Eric is a powerful testament to the man he was honouring and is a portrait of a man wrestling with demons that modern audiences need to experience to understand.
This film is a moving testament to the power of reconciliation and forgiveness which will be hard to shake for a few days, it’s images and messages hard to imagine and digest.
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