ⓘ The Railway Man (film)
The Railway Man is a 2013 British–Australian war film directed by Jonathan Teplitzky. It is an adaptation of the 1995 autobiography of the same name by Eric Lomax, and stars Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, and Stellan Skarsgård. It premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival on 6 September 2013.
During the Second World War, Eric Lomax is a British officer who is captured by the Japanese in Singapore and sent to a Japanese POW camp, where he is forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway north of the Malay Peninsula. During his time in the camp as one of the Far East prisoners of war, Lomax is tortured by the Kempeitai military secret police for building a radio receiver from spare parts. The torture depicted includes beatings, food deprivation and waterboarding. Apparently, he had fallen under suspicion of being a spy, for supposedly using the British news broadcast receiver as a transmitter of military intelligence. In fact, however, his only intention had been to use the device as a morale booster for himself and his fellow prisoner-slaves. Lomax and his surviving comrades are finally rescued by the British Army.
Some 30 years later, Lomax is still suffering the psychological trauma of his wartime experiences, though strongly supported by his wife Patricia. His best friend and fellow ex-POW Finlay brings him evidence that one of their captors, Japanese secret police officer Takashi Nagase, is now working as a tourist guide in the very camp where he and his men once tortured British POWs, having escaped prosecution for his war crimes. Before Lomax can act on this information, Finlay, unable to handle his memories of his experiences, commits suicide by hanging himself from a bridge. Lomax travels alone to Thailand and returns to the scene of his torture to confront Nagase in an attempt to let go of a lifetime of bitterness and hate. When he finally confronts his former captor, Lomax first questions him in the same way Nagase and his men had interrogated him years before.
The situation builds up to the point where Lomax prepares to smash Nagases arm, using a club and a clamp designed by the Japanese for that purpose and now used as war exhibits. Out of guilt, Nagase does not resist, but Lomax redirects the blow at the last moment. Lomax threatens to cut Nagases throat and finally pushes him into a bamboo cage, of the kind in which Lomax and many other POWs had been placed as punishment. Nagase soon reveals that the Japanese including himself were brainwashed into thinking the war would be a victorious one for them, and that he never knew the high casualties caused by the Imperial Japanese Army. Lomax finally frees Nagase, throws his knife into the nearby river, and finally at peace with himself, returns to Britain.
After an indefinite period of time, Lomax returns, with Patricia, to Thailand. He meets up with Nagase once again, and in an emotional scene, after exchanging and accepting each others apologies, the two make peace. The epilogue relates that Nagase and Eric remained friends until their deaths in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
- Jeremy Irvine as Young Eric Lomax
- Colin Firth as Eric Lomax
- Sam Reid as Young Finlay
- Stellan Skarsgård as Finlay
- Nicole Kidman as Patricia Lomax nee Wallace
- Tanroh Ishida as Young Takashi Nagase
- Hiroyuki Sanada as Takashi Nagase
- Micheal Doonan as Doctor Rogers
While he was working on the screenplay, co-writer Frank Cottrell Boyce travelled to Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland with Firth to meet 91-year-old Lomax. Firth said of the film: "I think what is not often addressed is the effect over time. We do sometimes see stories about what its like coming home from war, we very rarely see stories about what its like decades later. This is not just a portrait of suffering. Its about relationships. how that damage interacts with intimate relationships, with love."
Rachel Weisz was originally to play Patti, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with re-shoots for other films.
Shooting began in April 2012 in Edinburgh, Perth, and North Berwick in East Lothian and St Monans in Fife, and later in Thailand and Ipswich, Queensland, Australia.
4.1. Reception Critical response
On Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, the film has a score of 66% based on reviews from 119 critics. The consensus reads: "Understated to a fault, The Railway Man transcends its occasionally stodgy pacing with a touching, fact-based story and the quiet chemistry of its stars." At Metacritic, the film received a score of 59/100 based on 33 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Kidman, Firth, and Irvine were all praised for their roles. Katherine Monk of the Montreal Gazette said of Kidman: "Its a truly masterful piece of acting that transcends Teplitzkys store-bought framing, but its Kidman who delivers the biggest surprise: For the first time since her eyebrows turned into solid marble arches, the Australian Oscar winner is truly terrific", and finished with: "Coupled with some dowdy clothes and a keen ear for accents, Kidman is a very believable middle-aged survivor who will not surrender to melodrama or abandonment". Ken Korman, who agreed with that assessment, stated: "Kidman finds herself playing an unabashedly middle-aged character. She rises to the occasion with a deep appreciation of her characters own emotional trauma." Liam Lacey of The Globe and Mail stated, "Firth gives the performance his all as a man trapped in a vortex of grief, shame and hate, but as in Scott Hickss Shine, which the film occasionally resembles, theres an overtidy relationship between trauma and catharsis".
4.2. Reception Box office
The film grossed $4.415.429 in the US, and $17.882.455 outside internationally, for a combined gross of $22.297.884.
5. Historical accuracy
Philip Towle from the University of Cambridge, who specialises in the treatment of POWs, awarded the film three stars out of five for historical accuracy. Reviewing the film for History Extra, the website of BBC History Magazine, he said that, while he had no problem with the representation of the suffering of POWs or the way in which the Japanese are portrayed, "the impression gives of the post-war behaviour of former POWs of the Japanese is too generalised."
Towle also points out that the meeting between Lomax and his tormentor was not unexpected, but rather there had been correspondence leading up to it. He writes that the film may not have made it clear: the railway was basically finished, and by the time of their rescue ".the main dangers to the POWs came from starvation and disease, Allied bombing and the looming threat that all would be murdered by the Japanese at the end of the war".