It didn’t do as well as it might have, but The Railway Man sees Colin Firth turn in one of the most moving and nuanced performances of his acclaimed career to date.
A war drama about the power of forgiveness and redemption, The Railway Man is based on the bestselling autobiography of Eric Lomax, which told the often brutal tale of his experiences as a British army officer in a Japanese labour camp in Burma.
Inspiring, haunting and subtle as it quietly twists the knife of remorse, guilty and suffering this way and that, director Jonathan Teplitzky (Burning Man) has created an emotionally dense, gripping drama that stays with you long after the end credits have rolled.
It also stars Jeremy Irvine (War Horse) as the young Lomax – the one we see getting the majority of the beatings and the subject of the film’s horrific torture scenes. Lomax was serving in WW2 when he was captured and held prisoner by the Japanese, and forced with his fellow captives to build the Thai-Burma railway.
The result, as we see in the older Lomax played by Firth, is a man deeply scarred by war, emotionally unresponsive, haunted by violent nightmares and unable to truly let go of the past, despite his new wife’s efforts, who loses himself in the world of trains and timetables.
Nicole Kidman plays Lomax’s wife in the film, the one lone note which jars in a cast which is pitch perfect, and includes a splendid performance by Hiroyuki Sanada as one of Lomax’s torturers, Takashi Nagase.
Kidman seems too glamorous to be believable (how could this Hollywood-looking glamour chick fall for someone on a train who, with his thick jam-jar glasses, resembles Philip Larkin on a bad day?). Her emotional coldness which seems to characterise most of her performances doesn’t work here – we need someone with inner warmth to combat Firth’s emotional sterility.
Thankfully, the Aussie actress’s lacklustre performance isn’t enough to ruin what is a thought-provoking, gently conveyed film which confronts life’s greatest questions.