Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 28th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Back Track

fm railwayHaunted ex-POW confronts past in ‘Railway Man’

Is revenge really sweet? Even when one has been horribly wronged—in a wartime setting, for instance—is an eye-for-an-eye style of vengeance ever really justified? Indeed, can any amount of revenge ever compensate for the original injury? These are issues grappled with in The Railway Man, a handsome and quietly moving drama adapted from the bestselling 1995 nonfiction memoir by Eric Lomax, who, as a young British army officer, survived brutal conditions in a Japanese POW camp during World War II.

Scripted by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson, and directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, the film begins demurely enough, a couple of decades after the war, with no hint of the horror story at its core. Middle-aged Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) is a slightly fusty, eccentric, professorial type who is nuts about trains. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of British railway timetables and knows the most efficient way to get from point A to point B by train from any jumping-off place on the map of Britain.

This talent endears him to Patti (Nicole Kidman), a woman he meets by chance on a train one day heading north to Glasgow. Her interest gradually opens up the normally preoccupied Eric, and they chat for a while, but part when he reaches his stop. However, he figures out when and by which train she’ll be returning, conspires to meet her at the station, and romance blossoms. All of which is recounted in flashback by Eric to a half dozen astonished, solitary gentlemen with whom he regularly meets at a seaside cafe.

It isn’t until the night after their lovely wedding in an ancient village church that the viewer, along with Patti, gets a first glimpse of the darkness bottled up inside of Eric. Flashbacks to scenes of torture he endured in the camp begin invading his daily life, shutting him down emotionally. He refuses to discuss it with Patti, so she goes to his friend, Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard), from the cafe group, to get the whole story.

All of these men had been young officers in the British signal corps stationed in Singapore early in the war. When Singapore fell to the Japanese, the army of British engineers were transported to a labor camp in Thailand to hack a railroad line out of the fetid jungle into Burma. Conditions are hellish enough (and Teplitzky frames our first look at the slave labor camp, lit by torchlight, as an inferno out of Dante’s), but Eric (played as a young man by Jeremy Irvine) is singled out for special punishment when he claims responsibility after a radio receiver he, Finlay (Sam Reid), and the others cobbled together out of spare parts is discovered by the camp commanders.

Patti doesn’t know how to help Eric exorcise his demons—until Finlay learns that the Japanese interpreter, Nagase, who carried out most of the actual violence against Eric, is now operating a Memorial War Museum on the site of the old camp. Circumstances soon force Eric toward a confrontation. “We can’t sleep, we can’t love,” Finlay tells him, summing up the collective damage done to them all. Eric is convinced that for the sake of the entire group, he will have to press the matter to some resolution, one way or another.

Kidman doesn’t have much to do after her first couple of scenes, except look concerned. And while Teplitzky tries not to be gratuitous, torture scenes are always psychologically brutalizing to watch, even if filmed with some discretion. But because we identify so strongly with the soft-spoken, self-effacing complexity of both Firth and Irvine in the role of Eric, the film demands that we viewers also examine how we might react in similar circumstances.

Both Tanroh Ishida and Hiroyuki Sanada as the younger and elder Nagase are allowed their moments of revelation and remorse as the story plays out. How the real-life Lomax responded is now a matter of public record, giving the film a more contemplative ending than we might expect. The Railway Man doesn’t pack a wallop; instead, it invites its audience to consider our own notions of justice, morality and forgiveness.


★★★ (out of four)

With Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, and Stellan Skarsgard. Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson. From the book by Eric Lomax. Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky. A Weinstein Company release.

Rated R. 116 minutes.


Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Santa Cruz Gives

A look at the organizations we’re asking you to support in our new holiday giving campaign


Gratitude—For Each New Morning With its Light

The full moon of Wednesday brings light to Thanksgiving (Thursday) under the Sagittarius Sun and Mercury. Mercury in Sag offers humanity the message (Mercury) of thankfulness and joy (Jupiter). No other sign represents food, music and joy better than Sagittarius (only Pisces, when not in despair). Beginning on Thanksgiving, we can list what we’re grateful for. Then we can continue the list, creating a daily Gratitude Journal. What we are grateful for always increases in our lives. On Thanksgiving Saturn/Neptune square (challenging) is in full effect. This can manifest as traditions not being honored, disappearing, falling away. It can also create a sense of sadness, confusion, of things not working out as planned. It’s best to be as simple as possible. And to focus on gratitude instead. Gratitude is a service to others. It is scientifically and occultly a releasing agent. Releasing us from the past, allowing our future—the new culture and civilization, the new Aquarian laws and principles, the rising light of Aquarius, the Age of Friendship and Equality—to come forth. Gratitude and goodwill create the “thought-form of solution for humanity and the world’s problems.” The hierarchy lays great emphasis upon expressing gratitude. Gratitude illuminates all that is in darkness. Let us be grateful during this season together. Being, for others, the light that illuminates the darkness. A Poem by R.W. Emerson: We are grateful … “For each new morning with its light/For rest and shelter of the night/For health and food/For love and friends/For everything thy goodness sends.” (poem by R.W. Emerson). I am grateful for my family of readers.


The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program


Pluck of the Irish

Mid-century immigrant tale engagingly told in ‘Brooklyn’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments


Second Street Café

Pies and tarts for all tastes—from traditional to adventurous


How are you preparing for El Niño?

Getting ready to buy some rain gear. Cory Pickering, Santa Cruz, Teaching Assistant


Fortino Winery

Cabernet and superb fruit wine from Fortino Winery


Tap Dance

West End Tap & Kitchen’s impressive menu to expand to Eastside location