The Railway Man

Film, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(9user reviews)
The Railway Man

Colin Firth cements his reputation as the go-to man for repressed, buttoned-up masculinity with another performance of feeling and depth, playing a former soldier traumatised by World War II. What a shame then that the rest of the film is less stiff-upper-lip, more just stiff. It’s based on an acclaimed memoir by Eric Lomax, who was captured by the Japanese, tortured and put to work on the notorious Burma railway in his early twenties. After decades suffering what we’d now call post-traumatic stress, he met and forgave the Japanese officer responsible.

In Firth’s every grimace and flinch you feel the torment of Lomax’s private world, but emotionally ‘The Railway Man’ feels trimmed and tidied up. His story has been adapted into a conventional, solid, occasionally clumsy drama. Though it begins with a lovely scene, as Lomax, a lifelong railway enthusiast, meets his wife Patti (Nicole Kidman in frumpy vintage BHS), ‘Brief Encounter’-style on a train. Lomax is the prickly, bachelor type – owl glasses, old-man tweeds and a caterpillar moustache crawling across his upper lip. His chat-up line is a running commentary of the towns they pass through (‘Lancaster. Known as the hanging town…’). The whole thing plays like a mildly titillating Werther’s Original advert. Jeremy Irvine (giving Firth a run for his money) plays the young Lomax in flashback as a geekish engineer who, with suicidal bravery, confesses to the Japanese he is responsible for building an illegal radio.

By: Cath Clarke


Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Wednesday January 1 2014
Duration: 116 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Screenwriter: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Cast: Nicole Kidman
Colin Firth
Stellan Skarsgard

Average User Rating

3.3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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  • 1 star:0
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Far from being emotionally 'trimmed' or repressed, I found "The Railway Man" moving and entirely believable. Not only do Firth and Kidman give terrific performances as two rather different people who struggle through unexpected trauma, but Jeremy Irvine is outstanding at the younger Lomax. His counterpart, the young Japanese prison officer, is equally convincing, and the tension between the two of them is palpable. It has to be said that the flashbacks are more interesting and enjoyable - if one can be said to enjoy such harrowing events - than the rather drab scenes of the 1980s, but then, England is a greyer place than the Far East, and the almost monotone staleness of the atmosphere in the ex-soldiers' club is symptomatic of the dull despair into which their lives have descended, living out their days rather meaninglessly. Lomax's obsession with trains and the minutiae of timetabling was surely a blocking device, and I thought that Firth played these early scenes extremely well. If I had a quibble at all, it was that he morphed too quickly into Colin-Firth-Darcy handsomeness; a little more of the geekiness would have suited the character. But that was the director's decision, not his, and Firth pulls out all the stops in the end scenes of redemption, forgiveness, acceptance - and the last shot of all, truly magnificent. A quieter film than the Hollywood style "Twelve Years" but in my opinion better, more truly cinema.

At times a bit clunky. Good performances from Firth and Kidman. Very sad story. But glad I saw it.

Worthy, leaden drama which reminded me at various stages of Brief Encounter, The Bridge On The River Kwai and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.

This is a beautiful, touching film which is wonderfully acted. I'm not sure why timeout has such an odd half-finished review, but I enjoyed and was moved by it more than other much-lauded films which are out at the moment (e.g. Gravity which is technically wonderful but lacks any character development at all).

I didn’t know much about the story of Eric Lomax prior to seeing this film. I am not sure it really matters in hindsight since the film deals with its subject in an emotionally affecting and satisfying way. Colin Firth is Lomax, a Second World War veteran who worked on the Thai-Burmese railway, whose subsequent life in 1980s Berwick-Upon-Tweed is still tormented by his memories as a prisoner of the Japanese army. It is Lomax’s enthusiasm for railways which provides the connecting thread through the story. This weaves from his hobbyist fascination with the “death railway” construction of which he is a part, to his meeting his soon to be wife Patti (Nicole Kidman) in a train compartment. The trauma suffered in Thailand manifests itself in night terrors in the present, and drives Lomax to eventually seek redemption and healing in facing his tormentors. The film shifts between the present and the war, with the young Lomax played by the excellent Jeremy Irvine who is completely convincing in the role having mastered the nuances and mannerisms of Firth himself, and by extension the older Lomax. The PoW scenes do not shirk from the reality of their suffering, but nor do they linger unnecessarily on the brutality of war in an attempt to ram the message home. The acting and direction is subtly understated and accomplished enough to deliver the film’s message. Firth and Irvine are charming and riveting as Lomax. He is portrayed not simply as a victim but as a complex man full of wit and bravery. As demonstrated in A Single Man, the camera loves Firth. His presence glues you to the screen even when he is doing very little. His later scenes with Hiroyuki Sanada (also currently starring in lumpy Keanu Reeves vehicle 47 Ronin) as Takashe Nagase, prison camp translator and Lomax tormentor in chief, are tense and rewarding. Kidman does deliver one of her too-porcelain, stiffly English performances which is heavy on surface. Stellan Skarsgard as the older Lomax’s best friend is an insufficiently drawn character given the pivotal influence he comes to have on Lomax’s journey. Perhaps some of this was lost in the editing room. These gripes aside, The Railway Man delivers a moving message without grandstanding, and with generous helpings of grace, heart and maturity.

You have to wonder what this film did to so upset Time Out. First despite having two Oscar winners as its stars and showing on 41 screens in London, according to Time Out, it is displaced from this weeks new film review front page in favour of three fringe interest documentaries each playing on a single screen and two films that don't open till next week. It actually is very good and makes you think about injustice and abuse of people in a subtle and understated very British way that 12 Years as a Slave does not. Perhaps that is the problem if more people saw this many might see 12 years as the Emperor's new clothes of a film it is. A good four star film that makes you think and wonder just how inhuman people can be to each other. This weeks best best film about injustice and abuse of power over others.

I've been all over this site to find the screening times of The Rail Man at Westwood Cross Thanet. Am I missing something because I cannot find them??? I don't want to go the Odeon Leicester Square to see the film, as I live in Deal!!

The Railway Man is so touching film about war and war's trauma. Colin Firth gave a wonderful performance that must be reward with an Oscar nomination or maybe winning, because he is all talent. Nicole Kidman also gave a wonderful performance that makes you cry. Both actors are the best of film. The foreign cast is very good too.

The Railway Man is so touching film about war and war's trauma. Colin Firth gave a wonderful performance that must be reward with an Oscar nomination or maybe winning, because he is all talent. Nicole Kidman also gave a wonderful performance that makes you cry. Both actors are the best of film. The foreign cast is very good too.