The Railway Man (3 stars)

The Railway Man

Colin Firth excels in this biopic of Eric Lomax, a POW forced to work on the Burma 'Death' Railway

Adapted from Edinburgh-born World War II veteran Eric Lomax’s 1995 memoir, The Railway Man recounts Lomax’s experiences as one of the prisoners of war forced by the Japanese to construct the Burma ‘Death’ Railway in the jungle of Thailand. Lomax’s suffering as a POW is, however, only the beginning of his extraordinary story, which also takes in his struggle with stress-induced trauma in the decades following his return home and his reconciliation with one of the Japanese officers responsible for torturing him. That remarkable act was made possible in large part through the love and support of Lomax’s wife, Patricia, whom Eric met many years after his wartime experiences at a time when he was failing to deal with his trauma.

The film, scripted by Frank Cottrell Boyce (Hilary and Jackie, 24 Hour Party People, Millions) and Andy Paterson and directed by Jonathan Teplitzky (Burning Man), stars Colin Firth and Jeremy Irvine as, respectively, the older and younger Lomaxes, Nicole Kidman as Patricia, Stellan Skarsgård as Lomax’s fellow veteran and friend Finlay, and Hiroyuki Sanada as Lomax’s abuser, Nagase. The strength of the film lies in its performances, with all of the principal cast members contributing solid, unshowy turns. Kidman has less to do in her role as Eric’s lover, carer and emotional rock, but then the story is about her husband’s suffering and salvation. In a tricky role that requires an awful lot of restraint – and a good deal of acting with the eyes – Firth is excellent as the emotionally scarred soldier. Come awards time next year, he will surely be in the running for a prize.

By contrast, The Railway Man suffers in terms of script and direction. Perhaps Boyce and Teplitzky felt no grandstanding was necessary to tell Lomax’s story. Regardless, the storytelling feels somewhat pedestrian.

General release from Fri 10 Jan.

The Railway Man (2013) Official Trailer

The Railway Man

  • 3 stars
  • 2013
  • Australia / UK
  • 1h 56min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Jonathan Teplitzky
  • Cast: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Jeremy Irvine
  • UK release: 10 January 2014

Starring Firth as a veteran of the 'Death Railway' – the line from Bangkok in Thailand to Rangoon in Burma constructed by Allied prisoners of war during World War II. In this adaptation of a true story, he sets out many years later to find those responsible for his torture.