Star Rating:

The Railway Man

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky

Actors: Colin Firth, Jeremy Irvine

Release Date: Monday 30th November -0001

Genre(s): Drama

Running time: 116 minutes

The first ten minutes of The Railway Man will surprise. Or confuse. This drama decides to open proceedings with a Merchant Ivory-light romantic drama: a charming Colin Firth meets the coy Nicole Kidman on a train (always a setting for an England-based romance), they hit it off over the course of the journey and get married.

Oddly, that's the confusing bit. The fact that a young Japanese soldier appears in the honeymoon suite ordering Firth about isn't surprising in the slightest. That's because the audience knows going in that this is a drama about a former WWII POW who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is given a chance of confronting his torturer - they weren't expecting a chaste, none-more-English romance.

But Kidman, playing Patricia Wallace, wife to depressed Eric Lomax (Firth), is the catalyst that helps Eric overcome his problems. She approaches his war buddy Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) for help in unlocking Eric who clams up whenever the war is mentioned. Reluctantly Finlay relays the horrific story of Eric's (the younger version played by War Horse's Jeremy Irvine) torture at the hands of Nagase (first Tanroh Ishida, then Sanada). When the opportunity arises for Ericto confront Nagase, Patricia convinces him it's the only thing to do…

Adapted from Eric Lomax's autobiography by Frank Cotteral Boyce, who has adapted books for Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People, A Cock And Bull Story), one can't escape the feeling that there was a better version of the story to be told here. The Railway Man seems content in having two massive sequences - the torture and the later meeting - and is confident the rest will click into place. Not so. It's a movie that's waiting around to get going, biding time for those scenes and while they deliver The Railway Man is a stop-start affair, its constant use of flashbacks making it a struggle to get as emotionally involved as one should.

Firth once again is best in show and Kidman does what she can in a sidelined role but it's a dignified Hiroyuki Sanada that elevates the eventual meet between his torturer and Firth's prisoner to something special. Jeremy Irvine manages to capture a young Firth's mannerisms without it being an impression.

Despite the performances and its strong big scenes, The Railway Man is too safe to deal with its powerful themes of reconciliation and redemption.