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The Railway Man - Film Review

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by John Andrew (subscribe)
I'm retired, busy with volunteer radio and (with my wife) going to the theatre and enjoying 'fine dining".
Published December 29th 2013
Celebration of truth and reconciliation

Please note that there are spoilers contained within this review.

Shortly after the end of the Second World War a surgeon who happened to be a relative of this reviewer returned to a farm in the UK, having been a Japanese prisoner of war. Gradually he eased his way into his former life, becoming a highly successful heart specialist. Another prisoner of war returned to Australia, becoming blind due to the nutritional deficiencies of his imprisonment. Both were courageous, damaged men. What they had in common, apart from their experiences during the war, was that neither spoke of them.

In a railway compartment in the eighties a gentle donnish man (Eric Lomax, played by Colin Firth) meets a gentle beautiful woman (Patti, played by Nicole Kidman). This encounter of two older people falling deeply in love is delightful, sensitively portrayed and totally convincing. It is only after their marriage that it becomes clear that Lomax has been deeply scarred by his experiences as a prisoner of war after the fall of Singapore, and that his volatile mood swings and short fuse are damaging his marriage. He knows that he his destroying his happiness, and making the woman he desperately loves miserable.

But he cannot and will not talk about it.

Kidman persuades Lomax's best friend to tell some of Lomax's story and, through extended flash-backs we re-live the appalling conditions that Lomax faced, and the tortures he endured when it is discovered that he had built a radio. I cannot believe that anyone after watching this film could subscribe to the notion that water-boarding is not torture. Central to all of this is the Japanese translator Nagase, who is also Lomax's torturer.

Back in the eighties Lomax discovers that Nagase has survived, and has returned to the scene of his crimes, working as a tour guide at the camp where he was once a torturer.

Lomax returns to that scene to confront his torturer.

There follows an encounter where Lomax wrestles with his demon, metaphorically and literally, and finds his own truth and reconciliation.

The power of the encounter lies in Firth's capacity to portray deep personal agonies in understated acting of great depth.

"Perhaps this is why I survived" says his torturer "So you can come to this moment".

This is a film about truth and reconciliation - all the more powerful because of it not being easy.

"The Railway Man" may not become a blockbuster, but it must be in contention for Oscar nominations, and is surely destined to become a classic film.

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Why? Oscar material
Where: In cinemas now
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