TIFF: ‘Railway Man’ Finds Forgiveness in the Aftermath of War

September 15, 2013 4:49 pm Last Updated: September 26, 2014 1:59 pm

“Sometimes the hating has to stop.” So reads the final sentence in Eric Lomax’s novel “The Railway Man.”

Truth is stranger than fiction and often more harrowing, especially in times of war. The film adaption of “The Railway Man” details the true account of Lomax’s experience as a British POW on the Thai-Burma Railway in the latter part of World War II.

“The Railway Man” is not so much a tale of war itself as an account of the lasting impact war’s atrocities have on those who participate in it.

The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 7 and cast members Colin Firth, Jeremy Irvine, and Tanroh Ishida, along with director Jonathan Teplitzky, screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce, and Lomax’s wife Patti, discussed the challenges and the importance of bringing the film to life.

Firth plays an elder Lomax coping with the aftermath of the war; he is still haunted by the intense torture he suffered as a POW at the hands of a Japanese officer. Nicole Kidman plays the part of Patti Lomax who is kept at arm’s length from her husband’s past until Lomax confronts his demons by meeting and eventually befriending his Japanese tormentor.

It is the story of the long road to recovery for a WWII veteran and, as Patti Lomax pointed out, as relevant today as at any other time in history.

Lomax spoke eloquently about her late husband’s ordeal and the redemption and peace he found through forgiveness.

“The fact that Eric, although he was a human person, could rise above himself and meet this awful person—or so [he thought] in his mind—that he had been haunted by for all these years—we looked upon it as something therapeutic,” she said.

She also emphasized that the subject of the book and film are still relevant today, with soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan experiencing the same psychological scarring as that of her husband.

“The trauma that these people receive colours their whole lives,” she said.

This sentiment was echoed by screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce.

“This isn’t just about a forgotten moment in history. Sadly these are very important issues now.” he said. “The way that Eric was tortured was waterboarding. When we first started working on this film that seemed like a remote, antique thing, and now its part of how we do business in the West.”

The Forgotten Eastern Front

Firth pointed out that the story of the “Death Railway” and of the Eastern Front in general has largely been ignored in literature, film, and the education system.

The Eastern Front was characterized by loss and surrender—aspects of the Second World War ignored by the victors. “The Railway Man” sheds light on an important but overlooked part of the war.

“This whole chapter of history didn’t feature certainly in my classes, nor in film lore in the way the European wars did. It’s not as much a part of the conversation,” said Firth.

“We were all so familiar with the great war crimes in Europe, and the whole Eastern story seems to be something that really isn’t in our public consciousness,” said Jeremy Irvine, who plays the younger Lomax.

“This is why this film is so important.”