The trailer for The Railway Man, the story of a former soldier haunted by the torture he received at the hands of Japanese after the fall of Singapore in 1942, probably gave too much away.
‘At some point the hating has to stop’ – Colin Firth’s melancholy baritone said it all.
We’re introduced to Eric Lomax, a retired railway enthusiast, on the day he meets his future wife Patti (Nicole Kidman) on a train in a pleasant shire of seventies England.
It is a long and superfluous preamble, for Patti, other than encouraging her husband to come out of his shell, has next to no part to play in what follows.
Early in their marriage, Lomax’s traumatic recollections of his time working on the Burma–Thai railway surface.
His need for retribution – shared by fellow PoW ‘Uncle’ Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård) – is centred on Nagase, the interpreter involved in so much of their suffering.
When it is discovered that Nagase is still alive and employed as a tour guide at the site of their forced labour, Lomax travels to Thailand to exact his seething revenge.
The narrative moves effortlessly between present and past, any visual jarring being avoided by the remarkable facial similarity shared by Colin Firth and Jeremy Irvine as the old and young Lomax. Tanroh Ishida and Hiroyuki Sanada are both likewise convincing as Nagase.
The harshness of the environment and the sadism of the Japanese captors is depicted in an uncompromising manner that will shock no Australian brought up with the horror of Changi screened annually on 25 April – that so many continue to be psychologically scarred by war is the hidden price of unending conflict that all nations will forever be paying.
The role is no stretch for Firth, who at times appears to be going through the motions. His natural tendency to understatement – abandoned a tad excessively when Lomax experiences moments of stressful flashback – results unexpectedly, and surely unintentionally(?), in the movie belonging to Nagase.
At the very affecting conclusion, it is his journey that is the most profoundly moving.
~ John Campbell