Cruelty, endurance, survival, making peace with the past. The Railway Man assembles many of the same ingredients as 12 Years a Slave and makes a dog’s dinner of them. Colin Firth plays Briton Eric Lomax, the true-life Burma Railway survivor haunted by memory, who in late years re-met his Japanese persecutor and achieved reconciliation, even (we’re told) friendship. Firth spends most of the movie with quivering features – it’s like watching a blancmange under torture – and emotion-clotted voice. He needed better or more varied direction. So did Nicole Kidman as wife Patti, largely confined to pouring the cold tea of clichés. (“Eric, we can’t live like this.”)
Maybe it’s the cloth ear of an Australian director that allows the number two Brit among the characters to be played by accented Swede Stellan Skarsgård. It must be Jonathan Teplitzky’s cloth eye that films the climactic two-man showdown, set in Asia, on a back-lot set with painted mountains. The heavenly choir music over recalled torture scenes one would call the final insult, did they not come early and leave plenty of time for further insults to follow.