"The Railway Man," which opened on April 11, 2014, came with very high expectations. The film, based on Eric Lomax's 1995 autobiography of the same name, tells the story of Lomax's experiences as a prisoner of war in a World War II Japanese prison camp. After surviving the camp, Lomax later attempts to find his captor, Takashi Nagase, and engender a confrontation. The film received significant hype not only for its subject matter, but also for lead actor Colin Firth's first truly high-profile role since playing King George VI in 2010's "The King's Speech."
"The Railway Man" is not the first adaptation of Eric Lomax's famous autobiography; it was the subject of the made-for-TV drama "Prisoners of Time" shortly after publication. However, the film "The Railway Man" represents the first time Lomax's story has been given the full Hollywood treatment, along with the accompanying hype and mounting expectations.
The majority of this hype centers around one person: Colin Firth. Firth, who plays Eric Lomax, gives audiences his first truly immersive performance since "The King's Speech." Playing King George VI won Firth his sole Academy Award for Best Actor. Since 2010, Firth has starred in four films, but until "The Railway Man," he had yet to take on another significant, high-profile role.
As with "The King's Speech," the Oscar nominations for "The Railway Man" will likely be out in force for Firth's star turn as Eric Lomax. Although he shares the role with "War Horse" star Jeremy Irvine, who plays the younger Lomax during flashback scenes, it is Firth's face viewers will remember long after the film ends. During the crucial scenes in which he confronts his captor Takashi Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada), he must balance his anger, fear, pain and, most importantly, hope. It is a superlative and haunting performance.
Firth is well matched by co-star Nicole Kidman, who plays Eric Lomax's wife Patti. She supports Lomax in his search for Takashi Nagase and his attempts at reconciliation. It is also Kidman's first high-profile role in many years. Although she appears in at least one film every season, few of them come with the hype and critical acclaim of "The Railway Man."
These two Hollywood stars, once known for their youthful turns in roles such as Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice" or Shannon Christie in "Far and Away," are now representing an older generation of actors. Firth, as Eric Lomax, sports a thinning head of gray hair. Kidman, as Patti Lomax, transforms her famous red locks into a graying bob. Though they are no longer playing the romantic lead and the ingénue, the torch has not yet passed; they hold their own onscreen in a way few younger actors can claim.
The film's advance hype also centers around the brutality of its subject matter, which includes honest, graphic scenes of the torture Lomax and his fellow captors experience while in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The film presents a straightforward, unflinching look at Lomax's suffering, as well as how he is able to maintain control throughout the torture and eventually survive the war camp.
The film also presents an honest look at post-traumatic stress disorder, as the mental and physical stress of Lomax's experiences in a prisoner of war camp are still a significant part of his day-to-day life, even decades after the war ends. There is no "back-to-normal" for people like Eric Lomax. He must carry his memories with him always, even as they cause him to weep uncontrollably or fantasize about murdering his former captors.
The real Eric Lomax died in 2012. Colin Firth was able to meet with him as he prepared for the role, and their meeting helped Firth bring the character of Lomax to life. It is clear that the filmmakers, as well as the actors, had a great deal of respect for Lomax's experiences and tried their best to translate them to the screen in a way that did Eric Lomax's story justice.
"The Railway Man" is a critical success, both for its subject matter and for the work performed by Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Hiroyuki Sanada and the other actors in the film. Colin Firth in particular gives audiences his best work in years. The film is worth the hype and exceeds all the high expectations.