VOD film review: The Railway Man
Ivan Radford | On 08, May 2014
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Cast: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgard, Jeremy Irvine
Watch The Railway Man online in the UK: Amazon Prime / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Sky Store / Rakuten.TV / Google Play
“Count not, waste not the years on the clock. Behold I stand at the door and knock.”
That’s how The Railway Man begins: with a poem recited by Eric Lomax (Firth). Why? It’s never really made clear. The piece is never seen or read by the character at any point in the movie. Neither is poetry mentioned at all. On the plus side, it’s read by Colin Firth and it makes you think and stuff.
No sooner is our random recital over than we’re on the train, where Eric bumps into Patti (Kidman). She’s a clueless traveller who smiles and talks to strangers. He’s a railway recluse who doesn’t. But his comprehensive National Rail knowledge sees them strike up a conversation. That conversation blossoms into stalking, then dating, then a full-blown relationship. Running around beaches and giggling, it’s an adorable, unexpected romance – even more so because both are in their un-Hollywood-friendly 40s and bring with them their own baggage.
That’s where The Railway Man takes its first surprising diversion: Eric’s baggage, it turns out, is of the wartime variety. Waking up in the middle of night shouting, he’s haunted by memories of 1942, when the Japanese army forced British PoWs to build the Burma railway – an act he describes as a barbaric cruelty. He shuffles around not speaking about his past, alienating Patti and supported only by equally closeted, and revenge-hungry, friend Finlay (Skarsgard).
Then, the movie changes track again. Suddenly, we’re on an express train of a flashback, in which a young Eric (Jeremy Irvine) is busy resisting his Japanese tormentors as the train line is put together.
Part rom-com, part repressed drama, part war movie, The Railway Man jumps between its three lines with barely a signal change, creating a somewhat uneven mood. Kidman and Firth go full steam at their roles, him mumbling and straightening his glasses with believable fustiness. Irvine, meanwhile, is a likeable enough presence to root for, but the back and forth structure leaves your emotional timetable incomplete, dragging out the length and despite director Jonathan Teplitzky’s precise period settings.
The engine finds its full speed, though, in a final act that moves into an unexpected siding. The journey may be bumpy but it benefits hugely form its on-form cast; it’s an uneven script that threatens to waste the years of the clock, but on the plus side, it’s read by Colin Firth and makes you think and stuff. When Firth’s not on board, the slow pacing borders on The Rail Replacement Bus Man. When he is, though, it’s just the ticket.
The Railway Man is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.