Some movies go into production with the lofty expectation of awards gold. When a film has a certain group of talent and a particular concept it gains an amount of expectation (not necessarily from the filmmakers) that sometimes can be difficult to live up to. When these so-called ‘prestige’ films fail to gain traction on the awards circuit they are seen as failures. This doesn’t mean that they’re bad, because not every film needs to be Academy Award nominated. Films should be judged on their own merits, taken in their own context and not lined against others in a particular awards season. The Railway Man is one such film, an award-winning cast and a serious topic (and a true story) seemed like a shoe-in for awards and plaudits. it don’t quite manage that – and it’s a shame because it holds its own, without ever being spectacular.
Colin Firth (and Jeremy Irvine) plays Eric Lomax, a former POW, still trying to get over the tortures of being held on a concentration camp and forced to build the Thai-Burma railway. Lomax goes in search of his former captor in the hope that meeting him will help him recover from the hate and fear that he still feels.
The Railway Man works as a character study, anchored by string performances from its cast. Director Jonathan Teplitzky’s film touches on elements that have featured in other films (David Lean’s Bridge On The River Kwai) and it has enough emotional moments to stop it from feeling hollow. It’s also well shot (by Garry Phillips), however, at times it often feels like a well made television mini-series than a film. ironically it was made into a BBC drama starring John Hurt in 1995.
Acting-wise, everyone is on form. Colin Firth adds an extra element to his stiff-upper-lip onscreen persona and Irvine manages to give a strong depiction of the young Lomax by replicating Firth’s mannerisms. Nicole Kidman pretty much plays Nicole Kidman with an English accent, while Stellan Skarsgård is as reliable as always as Lomax’s best friend.
It’s safe to assume that everyone went into making The Railway Man with noble intentions. It’s a poignant tale that still feels relevant today and everyone does good work in front and behind the camera. However, ultimately it feels like there’s an important piece of the puzzle missing that stops the film from being essential viewing.
Over an hour of interviews with the cast and crew show that everyone was invested in bringing this tale to the screen. These comes across as detailed and don’t feel like filler. Worth watching.