The ghosts of the past haunt Colin Firth’s POW in this carefully told true story of persecution, revenge and forgiveness. Firth plays Eric Lomax, a World War II veteran who decades on is still reeling from his traumatic experiences at the hands of the Japanese army.

As a young British officer, Lomax (portrayed in flashback by War Horse’s Jeremy Irvine) is captured and incarcerated in a Thai labour camp. There he and his fellow POWs endure horrific conditions while being forced to work on the Thai-Burma railway (featured prominently in David Lean’s classic The Bridge on the River Kwai).

In later life, while harbouring unresolved feelings of fear, anguish and vengeance, Lomax has ironically maintained an obsessive fascination with locomotives and Great Britain’s railway network. On one such journey he meets and falls in love with Patti (Nicole Kidman), whom he later marries. But even her emotional support can only go so far to helping Lomax, and eventually he resolves to track down one of his tormentors (The Last Samurai’s Hiroyuki Sanada) and seize his violent catharsis.

A measured, quietly powerful drama, The Railway Man brilliantly portrays one man’s ordeal with post-traumatic stress, at a time well before such a thing was consciously diagnosed. Firth is as reliably excellent as ever, bringing an understated anguish to the role of Lomax that only accentuates his inner turmoil. There is fine support all round, but the real star is the story itself, and its slow build to a heartbreaking climax of selfless humanity.

This review first appeared in Cathay Pacific’s Discovery Magazine, August 2014

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