If there is one word you wouldn’t quite associate with Colin Firth, it’s barbaric. However in Jonathan Teplitzky’s profound World War Two drama, The Railway Man, Firth has to portray a darker side to his demeanour to what we’re used to seeing – and regrettably it’s his very casting which is the film’s undoing, as it’s a tragic, devastating set of affairs that feel somewhat Hollywoodised, and suitably watered down.
Based on a true story, Firth plays Eric Lomax, a man who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the nightmares he endured as a Japanese prisoner of war (played in flashbacks by Jeremy Irvine) where he was forced into building the ‘Death Railway’ – a gruelling endeavour that led to him being tortured, specifically by one incensed Japanese soldier. Years later, he has since become obsessed with the railway, and it’s on a train where he meets the love of his life, Patricia (Nicole Kidman), who he proceeds to marry. However as his nightmares get worse, and the opportunity arises to confront his tormentor, he has to decide if he’s willing to act upon his unwavering vengeance once and for all.
Though it is somewhat challenging to believe in Firth when it comes to a potentially brutal revenge mission – in some respects his placid, vulnerable nature enhances the emotional impact of the piece. For such a seemingly equatable, composed man to be driven to a point of potential murder, highlights just how damaging the monstrosities he faced were. Teplitzky shoots himself in the foot however, by presenting the film initially as a fluffy, light-hearted piece, where the romantic narrative takes precedence. By the time the film takes a dark, unsavoury turn and we delve into Eric’s deranged past, regrettably we’re not on side.
Irvine does a fine job of imitating a young Firth with minimum contrivance, as the viewer – despite any initial apprehensions – completely believes they’re the same person. However The Railway Man leaves you feeling underwhelmed, as despite the magnitude and emotional impact of this incredible tale, it never quite reaches the heights it should, leaving you to feel somewhat cold and regrettably disengaged.