Monday, 8 June 2020

The Railway Man

Films depicting events in World War II are very often all-adventure boy's comic-book yarns about the stiff-upper-lipped Brits giving The Hun a damned good thrashing. Then there are thoughtful, reflective stories which tell the gritty real-life side of real people's dreadful struggle amidst, often, the enemy breaking the 'rules' of warfare of the day and impact that had on people's lives. The Railway Man is the latter.

We jump into this 2013 fact-based film in the 1980's when Eric meets Patti on a train journey one day, they fall for each other and very quickly marry. Eric is a railway enthusiast. What he doesn't know about trains and railways isn't worth knowing. He starts to show signs of anxiety after the honeymoon period but won't open up to his wife and share what is in his head. She tries to find out what the problem is by turning up at a Royal Legion Club where Eric and his surviving WWII buddies hang out and mutually support.

Finlay is the person she pesters until he starts to tell her about what happened to Eric and the rest of them when they were subjected to abuse in capture by the Japanese forces in Singapore, 1942. We then enter flashback mode and leap between the two eras. We see a young group of educated engineers captured and put to work helping the Japanese lay a railway, much as the story goes in Bridge on the River Kwai.

As we flash back and forward it becomes apparent that one Japanese soldier, supposedly a translator, is instrumental in facilitating the poor treatment handed out by his army to Eric and his friends. They rig up a radio in order to listen to what is going on in the war, which the Japanese interpret as a transmitter and dole out punishment accordingly. The scenes which follow are often harrowing and difficult to watch. As we switch back to the present, Eric finds out that the soldier in question is still alive and he considers travelling out there again to confront him.

Jeremy Irvine (War Horse) plays younger Eric and Colin Firth (Magic in the Moonlight, The King's Speech), the older. Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd (Chernobyl, Angels and Demons) plays Finlay and Nicole Kidman (The Hours, Cold Mountain), Patti. The four main leads carry it off excellently well, particularly Irvine who depicts the horror of his situation convincingly and Firth, who reflects similarly with the emotions beyond what any of us could imagine.

Jonathan Teplitzky who also directed Churchill does a good job pulling the ideas together and drawing out solid performances whilst ensuring that the visuals reflect the mood and seriousness of the subject. It's a story of horror, sadness, reflection, forgiveness, compassion, understanding which also highlights, as did Kwai, the differences between the cultures of the far-east and western nations. The differences in approach to life, values and what's important. It's also something of a portrait of a man trying hard to fit into society and finding it difficult to share his inner thoughts and past experience with a patient and understanding wife. It's a very well made film, doing the rounds on terrestrial TV in the UK just now and absolutely should be on your watchlist.

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