"The Railway Man is a gripping ride that would benefit from filling in some emotional blanks"

The Railway Man opens to an impressive soundtrack, with Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) reviewing train timetables and train carriages. A clear railway enthusiast his frequent train journeys lead him to a chance encounter with Patti (Nicole Kidman). He is smitten and confesses his new love to his male friends at the local veterans club. However a dark cloud seems to hang over his declaration.

Their relationship develops with a teenage innocence in a montage that takes them to their wedding night. It is then that Eric undergoes a startling transformation as Patti finds him screaming on the bedroom floor. Eric falls prey to nightmares from his past and retreats further and further into himself. Completely shutting Patti out and terrorising her with his unpredictable behaviour, Patti is at her wits end but refuses to give up on the man she loves. After several unsuccessful visits to his veterans club, Patti finally learns the truth from Eric’s closest friend and former squadron member, Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard). 

The film continues as a series of long flashback scenes intercut with short snippets of dialogue between Patti and Finlay. We are taken back to 1942. The British army is forced to surrender as Singapore is overrun by Japanese forces. A young Eric (Jeremy Irvine), a Signals Engineer and budding railway enthusiast is among them.

They are sent to the forced construction of the notorious ‘Death Railway’ in Thailand.  The men are put through unimaginable suffering, forced to hack through rock and jungle with their bare hands, beaten, starved and left prey to diseases. These horrors are bad enough but, when an act of courage by Eric is discovered, he is separated from his squadron and subject to unimaginable interrogations , shown in unflinching audio-visual detail, at the hands of Japanese intelligence officer Takashi Nagase (Tanroh Ishida). Startling events back in the present ultimately compel Eric to travel to Thailand to defeat his demons one way or another as the film comes to a powerful climax.

Though Firth, Irvine and Hiroyuki Sanada (as old Takashi) give strong and emotionally powerful performances, it is unfortunate that Nicole Kidman’s Patti is reduced to a cipher, particularly when it was the strength of Patti and Eric’s relationship that drove his desire to overcome his demons. The Railway Man had two incredible and different relationships to draw from and I would have been happy to skip some of the scenes of horror in the dirt to reveal more of the Eric-Patti and ‘old’ Eric-Takashi dynamics. Developed from Eric Lomax’s autobiographical account of his journey out the of the darkest place in the world, The Railway Man is a gripping ride that would benefit from filling in some emotional blanks.