Dir: Jonathan Teplitzky. Australia-UK. 2013. 116mins


The healing power of truth and reconciliation is touchingly affirmed in The Railway Man, a satisfyingly old-fashioned drama. The true story of a World War Two survivor confronting the horrors of the past is handled with tact and sensitivity by director Jonathan Teplitzky and a star cast. The story has a relevance to bitter divisions created by all global conflicts but will have the greatest resonance for the generation and their families mostly closely touched by events of seventy years ago.

The Railway Man may seem a little too respectful and stodgy for some critical tastes but audiences will find the power of the story hard to resist.

The film’s greatest appeal will lie with an older demographic drawn to dramas of substance, the very audience who have supported the likes of War Horse or The King’s Speech. There should be substantial theatrical returns and potential awards consideration for the title in the UK where the Eric Lomax memoir was a bestseller and his story is well known. Lomax died last October at the age of 93 when the film was in post-production. 

Lomax (Colin Firth) was a captive of the Japanese after the fall of Singapore in 1942 and suffered harrowing treatment as slave labour used in the construction of the ” Death Railway” from Thailand to Burma. His fate was all the more ironic because of his lifelong enthusiasm for railways.

The film begins on a train in the 1980s where Lomax has a brief encounter with the kindly Patti (Nicole Kidman). He charms her with his knowledge of timetables and trivia and they are soon married. It is only after the marriage that the former nurse Patti learns how deeply Lomax is trapped and traumatised by the war and unable to share anything of his past.

The film shifts into flashbacks where Jeremy Irvine does a terrific job of playing the younger Lomax. His voice matches the rhythms and cadences of Firth’s and he projects sterling qualities of decency, integrity and courage under pressure. It is one of rising star Irvine’s best performances.

The film moves between past and present as we learn more of Lomax’s torture at the hands of Japanese interrogator Nagase (Tanroh Ishida) and of Patti’s determination to help him find a way to reconcile himself with what happened. The news that Nagase (strongly played by Hiroyukie Sanada) is alive and well and working as a tour guide inspires Lomax to return to Burma and confront him.

Colin Firth is well cast in a role that plays to his strengths of emotional reserve crumbling towards catharsis and some of the best scenes in the film are when he comes face to face with Nagase in search of revenge. Nicole Kidman offers warm support as the sketchily drawn Patti and builds some genuine affection into the relationship with Lomax.

Shot on attractive locations in Scotland and Australia, The Railway Man may seem a little too respectful and stodgy for some critical tastes but audiences will find the power of the story hard to resist, especially as a warm, stirring musical score by David Hirschfelder leads towards a tear-stained climax.

Production companies: Railway Man Ltd, Pictures In Paradise, Trinifold

International: Lionsgate, www.lionsgate.com

Producers: Andy Paterson, Chris Brown, Bill Curbishley

Executive producers: Claudia Blumhuber, Ian Hutchinson, Zygi Kamasa, Nick Manzi, Daria Jovicic, Anand Tucker

Screenplay: Frank Cottrell Boyce, Andy Paterson

Cinematography: Garry Phillips

Editor: Martin Connor

Production designer: Steven Jones-Evans

Music: David Hirschfelder

Main cast: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Stellan Skarsgard, Hiroyuki Sanada