Powerful war tale is on track


Could this be another Bridge Over The River? Why? Same connections, same conditions, same continent.

Back in a POW camp in the jungle where British soldiers, after the fall of Singapore, are worked to death building a railway, and treated worse than street curs.

The Railway Man goes beyond the war years into that void called Peace, mentally wounded by the knowledge of what has been and yet unable to speak of it, or move forward into the protection of ordinary life.

One of the survivors who meets regularly at the Berwick-upon-Tweed servicemen’s club reveals: “We can’t live; we can’t sleep; we are an army of ghosts.”

To have suffered so cruelly for so long breaks a man’s spirit and turns memories to stone.

Eric Lomax is one of them. He marries a lady he meets on the train to Crewe. Later, he returns to the camp, which has become a tourist attraction, to confront one of the Japanese guards who tortured him.

It is a story of courage, redemption and forgiveness. And it’s true.

What might have been layered with sentiment and illustrated by scenes from former POW movies, with a weeping wife in the wings and Lomax shouting at her: “Don’t ever interfere with matters that do not concern you,” followed by a kind of apology, “I’m still at war,” avoids the traditional booby traps and comes through with an honesty that gives the film a sense of purpose far greater than any trailer or treatment might imply.

Colin Firth has come a long way since Darcy’s wet shirt in Pride & Prejudice and the toffee-nosed spoilsport from St Trinian’s. After an Oscar for The King’s Speech and a Golden Globe for A Single Man he doesn’t have to say sorry ever again, certainly not here, where his thoughtful, emotionally cauterized performance as Lomax is perfectly judged.

Also mentioned in dispatches is Nicole Kidman’s sensitive portrayal of the lady on the train, so beautifully understated.

Kwai? This matches its power and its glory, like a bookend.