If it was the intention of The Railway Man (2013) director Jonathan Teplikzky to make a torturous film about torture, then hats off to him. On the other hand, if he was aiming to make an awards-worthy tale of romance, revenge and redemption, then Teplikzky and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce have failed and failed miserably. Colin Firth plays Eric Lomax, a Second World War veteran with a fondness for all things locomotive. Mentally scarred by his time in a brutal Japanese PoW camp, Lomax spends his days crying on the floor and being socially awkward until he meets love interest Patricia Wallace (Nicole Kidman).
The two fall in love and move in together, but Eric’s nightmares and general detachment starts to worry Patricia, so she encourages him to travel to Japan and confront the man who tortured him during the war. Given such raw, potentially emotive ingredients, you would think it would be virtually impossible for any director to have concocted a film as tepid as The Railway Man. Firth is still riding on the post-feel-good factor from his turns in The Kings Speech (2010) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011). Similarly, Kidman has recently enjoyed some of her best roles in a decade, so it’s disappointing to see Teplikzky offer up the sort of guilt-riddled, sentimental slush that awards season voters traditionally lap up with a big spoon.
Sadly for those concerned, Teplikzky has produced a rushed, soulless and utterly unconvincing BBC drama – and a poor one at that. Let’s forget for a moment that Firth and Kidman are both hopelessly miscast and have zero chemistry; their relationship is condensed into ten minutes with no time for an audience to become emotionally invested in the characters. When Firth eventually travels to Thailand for the big confrontation with his arch-tormentor (Hiroyuki Sanada’s Nagase), for not one second do you believe that Lomax is going to do what he set out to do. There’s a distinct lack of crucial dramatic tension throughout, and if you do manage to make it to the end without hanging yourself by your shoelaces, there’s also an obvious and mawkish final scene to look forward to.
It is, of course, completely understandable why a film adapted from Lomax’s moving memoirs was green-lit. The scenes of his younger self, played by War Horse’s Jeremy Irving, certainly have their moments and give us a glimpse of what could have been. And yet, A-list actors don’t always guarantee a good movie, just as a reputed A-grade story doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with a good script. If Boyce and Teplikzky were constrained by time and budget then The Railway Man can be written off as a forgivable folly. If, however, either of them looked at the finished article with any sense of satisfaction, they’ve perhaps deluded themselves.