Standing ovation, tears for The Railway Man

08 September, 2013 by Don Groves

The world premiere of The Railway Man at the Toronto International Film Festival prompted tears and a standing ovation from the festival audience- but mixed reactions from the critics.

Reviewers heaped praise on the performances of Colin Firth as Eric Lomax, a former prisoner of war during World War II who confronts his Japanese torturer,  and Nicole Kidman as his wife.


Several critics faulted the direction by Jonathan Teplitzky, lamenting an old-fashioned, stodgy approach to the narrative. However the consensus is the film, which opens in Australian on Boxing Day, will soon be picked up by a North American distributor.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg said the film “could generate some awards buzz” if it’s released in the US this year but he considers a spring 2014 debut is more likely, targeted primarily at art house audiences.

Lionsgate pre-sold the drama, an Australian-UK co-production produced by Chris Brown, Andy Paterson (who co-wrote the screenplay with Frank Cottrell Boyce, based on the memoir by Lomax) and Bill Curbishley, to every major territory outside the US.

Typifying the ambivalent reviews, Variety’s Peter Debruge opined, “Offering closure to a less-told chapter of World War II history, The Railway Man retraces the tracks of an exceptional man’s life, as former British soldier Eric Lomax confronts the Japanese officer who tortured him as a prisoner of war nearly four decades earlier. This overly stodgy true story brought audiences first to tears and later to their feet for a rousing standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival with its placid, postcard-worthy view of how men of a certain generation cope with deep emotional scars, tenderly acted by Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, as Lomax and the woman who inspired his healing. Too delicate to entice the masses, The Railway Man will likely give a smaller distrib a dark horse in the awards race.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney described the film as an “old-fashioned war drama stuffed into a cumbersomely choppy time structure… [which] is well-acted and handsomely produced, but its honourable intentions are not matched by sustained emotional impact or psychological suspense. The film boasts committed work from Colin Firth as a British train enthusiast profoundly damaged by his experience as a prisoner of war, along with tearful support from Nicole Kidman as his wife. But despite those deluxe elements, it never quite transcends its stodgy approach.”

More enthusiastic was Showbiz 411’s Roger Friedman, who said, “This is a big deal old fashioned film, beautifully made and acted. It deserves a good home. I think audiences are hungering for this kind of filmmaking a la Out of Africa or The Quiet American."

The London Telegraph’s Tim Robey judged the film “does perfectly respectable justice to Lomax's ordeal, without ever making a strong case for itself as independently stirring art.”

Lomax, who died aged 93 in October, never got to see the finished film. His widow Patti attended the Toronto premiere.