|Eric Lomax and Takashi Nagase.|
The consequences of war, or should I say the consequences of politicians sending young boys to war, is clearly portrayed in the former Royal Signals officer Eric Lomax’s autobiography published in 1995. It tells of his experiences as a prisoner of war during WW2 following the fall of Singapore and how he and many other prisoners were forced to help build the Burma Railway under the command of the Japanese military, a railway that cost the lives of 100000 men. For the second time The Railway Man has been adapted for the screen, the first in 1995 for Television starred John Hurt and now we have the feature film with Colin Firth ably taking the role of the older Lomax with Jeremy Irvine (War Horse (2011), Great Expectations (2012)) portraying the younger version. The story is told with intelligent use of flashbacks combining Eric’s current life with his time in Thailand building the railway.
Directed by Australian writer Jonathan Teplitzky and adapted for the screen by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson it is a remarkable account of how one human being can survive torture and extreme deprivation at the hands of another. The story starts in Scotland in 1980 when Lomax meets a Canadian nurse called Patti Wallace, a woman 17 years his junior, who after leaving his first wife married her in 1983. It’s not long before Patti (Nicole Kidman looking a touch more dowdy than she did in The Paperboy (2012)) realises that her husband has been psychologically damaged by his time in the camp and has severe problems coping with the after effects of his treatment there. But its not until she manages to get fellow veteran Finley (played by a miss cast Stellan Skarsgard) to tell her (via flashbacks) what went on during Eric’s time as a captive of the Japanese that she begins to appreciate the problems and nightmares he is suffering. Finley also explains to Pattie that the only way Eric is going to get any rest bite from his on going torment is to go back to the scene of his traumatic experiences and confront his torturer Japanese officer Takashi Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada/Tanroh Ishida) who Finley has discovered is still alive.
The movie goes some way to explain the meaning of what we now call post traumatic stress disorder, how it comes about and its aftermath. Lomax suffered for 40 years of his life, almost destroying his second marriage and making his own life a miserable existence for a good amount of his life time. Not helped by the ridicules British stiff upper lip scenario and the code of silence that prevailed even between comrades who shared the horrors of war. As one critic opined ‘this isn’t a war film but one about making peace with the past’