Film Review: 'The Railway Man'
Opened: 10 January 2014
Cast: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Stellan Skarsgård, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tanroh Ishida
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Producers: Chris Brown, Bill Curbishley, Andy Paterson
If you only watched 15 minutes of The Railway Man you might be forgiven for thinking it is warm slow burning British romance flick, then after another 30 minutes there would be no doubt that it is a perfectly realised historical movie, which seamlessly morphs into psychological intrigue and finally an out and out thriller. This is no mistake on the part of Director Jonathan Teplitzky who has chosen to base the feel of the movie around the plight of the real people it centres on, rather than re moulding events to fit a comfortable cinematic genre. The narrative moves where it needs to, switching its attention effortlessly between the two (or three) leads as required, an approach which is engrossing in its honesty.
This true story of British PoW torture survivor Eric Lomax, and his wife Patti’s determination to help her deeply traumatised husband is a quintessentially British journey filled with rich character study and sealed with a stiff upper lip. Colin Firth is predictably brilliant as Lomax, the kind of role that has come to characterise his career. This said, the complexity and intensity he communicates without the need for a wordy script is undoubtedly one of the film’s biggest assets. And Firth is not alone in this regard. What feels like a long hiatus from the zeitgeist for Nicole Kidman definitely comes to an end with her turn as Patti. Though undeserved in the first place, her reputation as box office poison is utterly shattered by this portrayal of a strong yet powerless woman who refuses to remain silent as the love of her life succumbs to the horrors of his tortured past. Conveying hopelessness and determination simultaneously Kidman displays a true fragility that I have never seen in her before, while not allowing the film’s Patti to ever become the little housewife that she so easily could have been made out to be. A small but wonderful supporting cast, with special mention for Jeremy Irvine as the young Eric Lomax, bring the film to life and complete its undeniable draw. The only criticism to be made of the cast is that Lomax’s best friend, and fellow British PoW, is played by a very Swedish sounding Stellan Skarsgard. While we can accept that an international name such as Nicole Kidman should help to bolster sales, the addition of Skarsgard is unnecessary and his delivery, spiced with superfluous melodrama, is out of sync with the rest of the film. I would contend that his recent increase in profile (via Thor and The Avengers) has made him an exciting prospect for directors looking for credible talent with an international profile, a common reason behind poor casting choices.
As a piece of storytelling The Railway Man beautifully renders a reservedly triumphant tale set across the contrasting backdrops of frigid coastal Scotland and lush sweltering Burma. The action is slow and considered (much like the mood of rural Britain at the time) but it never bores owing largely to the uncertainty and tension intrinsic to the situation, brought deftly to the screen by this production. I am truly grateful that gifted film makers and actors want to make movies like this in a time of heavy CGI graphics and massive hulking franchises (not that I am adverse to these either). It is clear that a genuine interest in this heart rending story of lives haunted by torture and war is behind the involvement of many of this film’s contributors; it shows in the considered cinematography, in the deep understanding of the period and in its unwillingness to bend to genre convention. Enjoyable, challenging and rewarding, The Railway Man is an earnest reminder of one of the darkest periods in world history, and the destruction that rippled from it for decades to come, told truthfully from the point of view of a single very brave man.