The Railway Man, based on the autobiographic book of the same name by Eric Lomax, a railway enthusiast and communications officer during World War II, tells the story of how he was captured during the tail end of the war, subjected to horrific treatment and then what he does when given the opportunity to confront and kill his torturer many years later.
Director Jonathan Teplitzky fast-forwards to 19080 and introduces us to an older Lomax, played by Colin Firth, a gentle, calm-mannered man, on one of his many railway journeys that he clearly takes for the love of it, he knows the timetables by heart – but he’d be offended if you called him a trainspotter.
Eric falls in love after a chance meeting with Patti (Nicole Kidman), charming her with dry humour lines like: “If you think Warrington’s exciting, wait til we get to Preston!” Firth and Kidman’s first interactions depict an example of tender and romantic (grown-and-sexy) game alien to youth. It’s respectful, it’s subtle, but it works – she’s into him – but rather than make a move, the pair part ways only to be reunited by ‘happenstance’ as Lomax uses his cunning knowledge of the railways to beat her to final destination where he clumsily swoops in for the kill.
The first section is a love letter to old romance and the great British railway, with sumptuous rolling shots of sprawling British landscape, providing the perfect setting for the dramatic contrast in setting and tone when we are introduced to 22-year-old Eric Lomax (Jeremy Irvine – Warhorse) back in the South-East Asian jungle and watch as his harrowing story is revealed through flashbacks throughout the film. For the next 90minutes we see Eric Lomax past and present being broken by his experiences during the building of Burma’s infamous “Death Railway” that threaten to ruin his marriage.
Present Lomax becomes increasingly tormented by his past, his calm veneer bubbling with rage as he withdraws, and becomes short tempered with his beloved wife. But determined to not see her man suffer in silence, Patti confides in “Uncle” Finlay (played by the magnificent Stellan Skarsgård) one of the POWs who served with Lomax and who now runs the local Veteran’s Club. Uncle reveals that Lomax’s torturer escaped justice and now runs the dreaded WWII POW torture camp as a tourist exhibition – REALLY!? – and encourages Eric to travel to Japan to kill the cheeky sod.
We won’t ruin the ending for you, but it provides without doubt one of the most compelling and moving movie moments I’ve seen in the cinema. You can barely take your eyes off the screen, even though you’ll be tempted to look away to check your date has enough tissues as tears well up in both of your eyes.
The only criticism of this powerful depiction is that with the real life Eric Lomax passed away last year, and with this film hitting cinema screens on new year’s day it all feels a bit late. But with that said, a great story is a great story and this is definitely up there, worth a look if you’re looking for a well-paced and beautifully shot film with some great performances across the board.