The Railway Man Review

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When war vet/railway fanatic Eric (Firth) meets Patti (Kidman) on a train, love blossoms. Only then does she discover he is haunted by his past as a prisoner of the Japanese...


Colin Firth’s new movie promises awards-frequency gravitas. The British actor, who could dance this brand of fractured nobility on the head of a pin, is the former POW scarred by a war spent building the very railway that cut through Burma and over the bridge that later starred in The Bridge On The River Kwai. With the bitterest of ironies, the young Eric Lomax had been bewitched by railway lore — something he saw as a civilising force, connecting the world.

Nicole Kidman, playing ordinary with plain brown hair and unmasked wrinkles, is the divorcée who plucks him from bachelorhood and risks confronting those wartime demons, the pair meeting, appropriately, on a train journey through pylon-studded Northern England. There is even the added honour of being based on a true story. As is the vogue these days, snapshots of the actual couple roll beneath the closing credits as a reminder of the veracity of what we have seen. How, then, is Aussie director Jonathan Teplitzky’s film so dramatically inert? So misleading? So fiddly?

Simple, because he undermines strong performances with an absurdly haphazard structure and listless pace, heavy on both brake and throttle. While the general dramatic arena is clear, the script keeps changing focus: late-blooming love, the plight of discarded veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder, or the possibility of reconciliation. How about our World War II special: grim flashbacks to the horrors of Burmese camps where Eric (now played by Jeremy Irvine) is singled out for torture by neurotic camp captain Nagase (Tanroh Ishida). Even this Japanese POW brutality struggles to break the sticky TV cliché laid down by Tenko. Not enough to locate the psychological trauma done to Lomax and his fellow veterans, huddled over pints in the desolate men-only bars of the British Legion.

Maybe this constant rerouting is supposed to echo junctions and points, the crossing between different lines of the same story. If so, to what end? This time Firth’s entire film is doing the stuttering.

Tamely shot, thematically scattershot and uncertainly told — not even Colin Firth can talk this biopic to life.