What begins as a tranquil and ‘very British’ romance, becomes a war movie, flirts with turning into a revenge thriller before ultimately settling on something not particularly satisfying. The Railway Man begins with an impossibly unattractive, train-spotting, moustache-bearing Colin Firth encountering Nicole Kidman and they seem to instantly fall in love on board a train. Everything seems fine before it’s revealed that he suffers from psychological trauma from being taken by the Japanese during WWII. The wartime flashbacks make up the film’s strongest component and Jeremy Irvine does a really convincing job of appearing and sounding like a young Firth.
It seems odd for a film with so much torture (both physical and mental) to feel so emotionally disengaging but the placid tone and ordinary script do little to awaken tired eyes. There comes a point when it feels like the tone might jolt dramatically and take a big, much needed risk but it gently falls safely into the Sunday teatime slot, albeit with added torture. Kidman’s character could be played by a piece of cardboard and the lovely Colin Firth isn’t a whole lot more engaging. It lacks the intensity to bring about the desired, emotionally cathartic ending it attempts. Throughout The Railway Man there always lies the hope that it’s building towards something greater and then the ending couldn’t feel much more saccharine. It’s another film which leans heavily on being ‘based on a true story’ but that isn’t enough to make it feel genuine and captivating. It can be charming but such moments are infrequent and instead it settles on being just a bit dull, quite often meandering.
Review by David Rank
The Railway Man is out on 10th January in the UK. Running time 116 mins. mins. Certificate 15 (UK).