Eric Lomax( Colin Firth) loves trains.He knows the timetables of trains in England verbatim.If you have missed your train he can guide you faster than Google and in any case in 1980 there was no Google.One day he boards a train and takes a seat opposite a beautiful woman and dazzles her with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the train timetables.One thing leads to another, actually this one thing leads to them getting married at the speed of a Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet trains.The recklessness of this romance threatens to derail the film right at the beginning.
That beautiful woman is Patricia, played by the slightly Madame Tussaud’s waxwork frozen in time type Nicole Kidman, and she soon discovers that Lomax hides a very disturbing past.During WW2 he was captured by the Japanese in Thailand when the British surrendered, but Lomax was brutally tortured because he made a map of the railway system as deduced by him when they were transported upcountry in a cargo car.He did it because he is a railway enthusiast and all rules applying to POWs are thrown to the winds in torturing him to get to the bottom of the matter.
Thirty years have now passed and the demons of those brutal torture sessions have morphed into gut wrenching nightmares. Naturally it sets into motion a journey for revenge and the opportunity presents itself when one of the group of the men Finlay(Stellan Skarsgard) captured chances upon a photograph of the Japanese soldier who carried out the torture.He pushes Lomax into a situation where he is forced to act by doing something that really raises the stakes.
Now this film is based on a true story which is at once an advantage and in this case a bigger disadvantage.The moral dilemma that Lomax faces when he confronts his torturer is a classic and compelling one.But the journey that he makes to that point and the resolution have to be firmly rooted in the fact, which weakens the dramatic arc somewhat.
The material of the film is rich, the performances very good, particularly Colin Firth who is reliable and eminently watchable, but the pacing of the film in the middle act sags. Stellan Skarsgard is wasted in a underwritten role that could have added considerable depth to the film. The editing could have been more creative to overcome the limitations of the story.Mr Teplitzky is trying to tell a story which is universal, but his handling of the story is more biased towards the external beauty of the picture, his compositions are precise and meaningful.
What Lomax does and the films end I shall of course not reveal.The director had two options, either to dramatise the situation and create an entertaining ending or leave the audience to find the moral ramifications entirely themselves.He chooses to tread a middle path which diminishes the power of the “truth” of this true story.As a person who much prefers trains to planes I was looking forward to this film.The young Eric Lomax played by Jeremy Irvine, delivers an interesting speech about how the railways transformed the world in the 19th century and how every great railroad is build on the dead bodies of migrant labour.Its a history lesson worth remembering and its in moments like this that The Railway Man achieves a rare clarity and won my heart.