A POW's truth goes Firth
The Railway Man tells the compelling true story of torture and forgiveness.
by BY JOHN CORRIGAN, <a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a> N HOLLYWOOD'S latest World War II adaptation, Colin Firth stars as Eric Lomax, a British officer turned POW in "The Railway Man." Based on Lomax's 1995 autobiography of the same name, the gripping love story follows the traumatized war veteran's journey for revenge, compelled by his relentlessly compassionate wife, Patti, played by Nicole Kidman, against his torturer, Takashi Nagase. When Firth met then-91-year-old Lomax to prepare for the role, the men discussed Lomax's original plan to kill Nagase over lunch. "That's not a conversation you have every day in polite company," Firth said in a telephone interview. "I was fumbling for the words regarding who else knew about his intention to, and then he said quite bluntly, 'kill him?' He said it for me. No passion, no venom, no apology." Ultimately, Lomax forgave Nagase because, as his tombstone is inscribed, "some time the hating has to stop." Despite mastering Lomax's mannerisms so well that the real Patti occasionally admits to forgetting it's not her husband on screen, Firth still struggled with understanding his character's ability to forgive his torturer. "This was an experience where one starts to question the power one has with the limited set of skills and experiences you have to actually interpret what you're trying to tell," the Academy Award-winning actor said. "I don't have anything in my life which is equivalent to this." Screenwriters Andy Paterson and Frank Cottrell Boyce had read the memoir 14 years ago, and when they reached out to the Lomax family, they discovered that Patti's story was just as important as her husband's. "Patti represents so many millions of families who have to live with the wreckage of war," Paterson said. "She is hardly mentioned in the book only because I think Eric, like many men who had these experiences, found it very difficult to deal with the emotions. When we told him we want to write up that side of the story in a much bigger way and almost use her struggle to find out what's wrong with him, he was so pleased." Shooting at all the real locations in Thailand, Paterson refused to make the film unless viewers could "join 21-year-old Eric in that world," going so far as to excavating the death railways of the jungle. "Veterans have had to live with the shadow of the 'Bridge on the River Kwai,' which is a work of fiction they despise because it was so inaccurate in every possible way," Paterson said. "But it had been the only reason people knew about that campaign at all." Patti, 76, who came to Philadelphia with Paterson to promote the film, said that her husband would be proud of the film because of how much truth translated to the screen. "It's a very modern message, dressed in old clothes, about the untreated damage of veterans, which sadly still goes on today," Patti said. "I think the film shows, in a nonpreachy way, that it's always possible to move forward."