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Railway Man, The


Stars: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Stellan Skarsgard, Tanroh Ishida, Sam Reid, Hiroyoki Sanada, Tom Hobbs, Ewen Leslie

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky

Bespectacled Eric Lomax's (Firth) enthusiasm for railways has taken him all over Britain; he can tell you all the best routes, and all the most interesting facts about the towns you'll pass through. But Lomax is also a man haunted by the past; and we meet him at a grim-faced reunion of men who suffered in Japanese wartime prison camps, many of whom will never fully recover.

'We can't love,' says Lomax's friend Finlay (Skarsgard). 'We can't sleep. We're an army of ghosts.'

Though he meets Patti (Kidman) - on a train, of course - and marries her, Lomax remains a shattered man, forgetful of bills and prone to nightmares and fits of violence; Finlay advises Patti not to interfere.

We then flash back to the young Lomax (Irvine), rounded up by the enemy with the fall of Singapore in the early days of World War Two, and subjected to violent and barbaric torture after building a radio in his prison camp, a radio the Japanese seem convinced was built to communicate with the Chinese, even though it is only a receiver.

Lomax's chief torturer, Nagase (Ishida), a young officer hired as an interpreter, is relentless in his interrogation; flash forward to present (1980) times, and Lomax is given the opportunity to track down his nemesis (now played by Sanada) and exact revenge.

A bag-eyed Firth again demonstrates his versatility, as he proves, like a low-key Kidman, remarkably effective in roles for which they might not seem entirely suited. They certainly have some story to tell here, and the torture and prison camp scenes probably go just about far enough to suggest the full horror of the P-o-Ws' situation, in this extremely emotive narrative that will move you to tears before the end.

A coda tells us that Lomax, whose poem The Clock of Man is used hauntingly in the film, lived to a ripe old age. Few men could have deserved it more.

David Quinlan

Australia/UK 2013. UK Distributor: Lionsgate. Colour by deluxe.
116 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 04 Jan 2014