The Railway Man

Yesterday I went to see the film of The Railway Man (Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Hiroyuki Sanada). Last night I re-read the book on which it is based that came from my father’s shelves.

DSCN4650The film was a moving depiction of a man finding redemption late in life, through the love of a woman who helped him to confront his traumas and finally to meet and even make friends with one of the men responsible for his traumas. It is ‘based on’ rather than an exact version of the true story.

The film also does two important things:

It renews my shame, as a UK citizen, at being even distantly connected to inhumanity of Guantanamo Bay and what the American military are still doing there. We have in the last twelve years thrown away the right to condemn any other nation for treating people inhumanely.

It gives me hope that people have the capacity to forgive their enemies, if they can only meet and talk.

The film is only a brief window on a relationship in trouble and the torture Eric Lomax underwent during interrogation. What the film does not, cannot, do is give the full long-term picture of what Eric Lomax and thousands of other men suffered as Far East POWs and the suffering consequently visited on their families when they returned. After lengthy torture, Eric spent a year or more in unimaginable squalor and imposed silence in Outram gaol. After release, first in India, he met the ignorance and indifference to his their sufferings that blighted these men’s lives – a lady volunteer who suggested that since they had been POWs during most of the fighting, they must now be anxious to ‘do their bit’. In England, so much had changed. Eric’s mother had died in 1942 and his father had remarried. People had suffered and were not keen to revisit, let alone deal with, something that was over and done with.

The book, not surprisingly, tells a more profound, detailed and informative story. There are many tributes to the book. Ian Jack of The Guardian writes: ‘This beautiful, awkward book tells the story of a fine and awkward man.’

10 thoughts on “The Railway Man

  1. Deep reflection on Guantanamo Bay, and how POW were treated when they came back to “civilian life”.Everyone wanted to forget about the war.

    Some could not.

    I know of the story of a French-Canadian He was taken prisoner in Hong Kong in December 1941. His name is Patrick Poirier who was with the Royal Rifles of Canada.

    He could never forgive.

    Le récit de Patrick Poirier, infirmier aux Royal Rifles of Canada, fait prisonnier par les Japonais à Hong Kong en 1941, est particulièrement prenant. En trois années et demie de détention, le soldat est passé de 165 à 95 livres, il a subi à froid l’opération pour les hémorroïdes et toutes les privations à l’avenant. Sa mère, nous dit-il, ne mangeait plus pour partager son sort. Le drame d’Hiroshima, pour lui et ses semblables, fut une bonne nouvelle, celle de leur libération. «Je ne pourrai jamais pardonner aux Japonais, conclut-il honnêtement. Je les déteste encore, je crois.»

    • This is sadly and understandably often the case. Forgiveness is rare and demands a long journey with help from friends. I think the rest of us can contribute by listening to the stories of people who have suffered even if we fail to help them back to forgiveness.

    • Pat Poirier was my great uncle and the stories were mind boggling. I’m not sure anyone should be required to forgive such atrocities. Still, he was a very kind and gentle man despite the horrors he endured. That to me is a win in any case.

  2. As is so often the case, the book is better than the film. Still, it is a good thing that such a serious film is made with renowned actors so as to bring attention to these inhumane tortures. And posts like this one add to the attention. Thanks for posting.

  3. Even without having read the book, we felt the film wasn’t as satisfying as we expected. Nicole seemed wooden and the emotional tugging of our heartstrings was a bit too obvious. The younger Eric Lomax working away at making the radio in that dreadful camp didn’t look hungry or gaunt enough compared with all the others. The best part was the end when the two became friends and the photos of the real men were shown. The ‘Book thief’, also a movie (and book) about war and terror was a better one, we felt.

    The Guantanamo Bay torture camp is indeed on par with the worst of what happens when revenge is the only motive in seeking justice. By the way, our own Australian Government is doing the same. Total secrecy in now engaging the Navy and Army towing back boats of refugees from Australian waters back to Indonesia. They are thumping their nose at the UNHCR and Human Rights bodies. A depressing continuation of inflicting terror. ‘When will they ever learn?

    Thank you Hillary for your efforts in bringing to our attention all the injustices that have happened and still are happening.

  4. We rather liked Nicole’s understated performance (but then we’re English). I agree that the younger Lomax looked over-fit, though re-reading the book I realise that Lomax never worked on the railway or, more crucially, went up-river to the jungle camps. He works in the engineering depots with better guards and food. Later after his beating and torture he was starved very nearly to death and suffered appalling diseases in gaol.

    We will go and see The Book Thief. Thanks for the recommendation.

  5. I have not seen either of these films advertised in HK but maybe they will show soon. I regret that I find such films hard to see and would rather read the book. Guantanamo is a disgrace which will blight the USA for a long time. I hope Australia sees the error of its ways soon and does not condemn itself in the eyes of the world.

    • I also find such things hard to watch. I am so pleased for the memory of those men that, according to The Guardian weekly chart, 12,000 copies of the book The Railway Man sold last week, making it top of the non-fiction list. I also hope maybe one or two people in power will be influenced by the content.

  6. I often think about how we sacrifice our freedom and humanity in the pursuit of security. Guantanamo Bay is but one example. I have no love for terrorists, blowing up innocent people is not justified regardless of the cause. It is the action of a crazed animal, a fanatical, twisted mind. Torturing people is similar in nature, no matter how hard torturers work to justify their action. We all lose a degree of humanity when we sink into savagery. And the terrorists of the world win. –Curt

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