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The Railway Man - Review

The Railway Man

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DOING full justice to the story of the late Eric Lomax was always going to be a difficult task so it’s credit to the team behind The Railway Man, both in front of and behind the camera, that they have done such a good job.

As emotionally involving as it is, by turns, harrowing and thought-provoking, the film does justice to Lomax’s tale while resonating on the still relevant issue of post traumatic stress disorder. What’s more, it’s anchored by two great performances from Colin Firth and Jeremy Irvine, who play Lomax at various points in his life.

Lomax was a British soldier serving in Singapore when it fell to the Japanese, forcing his surrender and subsequent despatch to the notorious Burma (or death) Railway.

Once there, he was tortured by his captors, who found a hand-built radio in his possession, and subjected to unspeakable cruelty, much of which was overseen by the translator Takashi Nagase (Tanroh Ishida).

Surviving the war, Lomax returned to Scotland and lived a lonely existence until he met Patti Wallace on a train. Their ensuing relationship brought love and marriage but also triggered more inner turmoil, which Lomax continued to battle silently until being offered the chance to return to Thailand to confront his oppressor for a final time.

There is, of course, much more to the story but if you don’t know it then we won’t spoil it here.

But Jonathan Teplitzky’s film picks up at the point Eric (played by Firth) meets Patti (Nicole Kidman) and then flashes back to his time in Burma (when he is played by Irvine) before following Lomax back to Thailand.

In doing so, it takes time to examine the effects of war trauma on both its veterans and those supporting them, while exploring issues of revenge and even forgiveness.

It’s sensitively handled, too, with both Firth and Hiroyuki Sanada (as the older Nagase) allowed the time to tap into the complexity of their emotional journey. The final scenes in the film are genuinely poignant and affecting.

Irvine, on the other hand, carries the brunt of Lomax’s physical suffering and is a revelation, imbuing his younger Lomax with equal parts fear and determination, while also transforming himself physically (he lost weight and put himself through as much as he could to honour the story).

Some have criticised The Railway Man for perhaps not going far enough with showing just what Lomax endured (the film doesn’t touch on his imprisonment after his time on the railway), while some of the early romance feels a little hokey (but is apparently very close to the truth).

But there’s no denying that the film packs a powerful emotional punch while having some important things to say about the impact of war on the men and women who fight it.

It’s also, perhaps most importantly, a fitting tribute to Lomax’s own tale that has – just as crucially – been endorsed by Patti Lomax herself. And there can be no higher praise.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 116mins
UK Release Date: January 10, 2013