Friday, September 6, 2013

Toronto Film Festival 2013: Colin Firth stars in The Railway Man

The Railway Man: Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman as Eric Lomax and his wife Patti

By Dalya Alberge1:30PM BST 06 Sep 2013

As a British prisoner of war, Eric Lomax endured unspeakable torture and terror at the hands of his Japanese captors. Forced to stand for hours in the burning sun, he was half-drowned by a water-hose placed in his nose and mouth, his arms were broken and his ribs cracked in savage beatings, and he was made to sleep in a cage covered in excrement. That was his punishment for being caught with a radio that he helped to build. Two fellow prisoners similarly accused did not survive the beatings.

Almost a year after his death aged 93, the harrowing but inspirational story of atrocities that he and thousands of British servicemen suffered in captivity and on the notorious Thai/Burma “Death Railway” is now told in a major British film. The Railway Man receives its world premiere this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival, attended by his widow, Patti, and its Oscar-winning stars, Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. But its producer and co-writer, Andy Paterson, doubts that Lomax would have joined them had he been alive. He believes that, after a lifetime of nightmares and flashbacks, Lomax would have found the film’s portrayal too realistic. The horrors remained raw – even after facing his demons, both psychological and real, in confronting, then forgiving Takashi Nagase, the interpreter who presided over his torture.

After the war, like many POWs, he was unable to talk about his experiences. But he realised that future generations needed to be told and, in 1995, he published his powerful memoir – The Railway Man – a bestseller that reminded the world of the sacrifices of the “forgotten army”.

Paterson observes: “He was able to make sense of it – not just for himself, but so others might comprehend it … But we still occasionally glimpsed what Patti called ‘the shutters coming down’. If you [probed] … too deep, you’d encounter the silence.” At his home, Paterson and Firth noted the absence of a radio. Paterson recalls. “He looked at us and said ‘I think I’m allergic to radios’.”

They worked extremely closely “to understand what he went through … very different from writing down events,” Paterson adds. They wanted the script “right” and “there was a moment when he said, ‘this is what it felt like’. Then we knew the script was right.”

Like other veterans, Lomax was critical of David Lean’s fictionalised film, The Bridge on the River Kwai. He criticised the well-fed POWs. The Railway Man went out of its way to find thin extras, and Jeremy Irvine, who made his name in Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, lost two stone to play a young Lomax. Firth portrays the older man.


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