In Hollywood parlance, they “meet cute” — he stumbles into her first class seat on the train to Edinburgh.
She (Nicole Kidman) is a bit taken aback, but only for a moment. She offers, way too soon, that she’s “newly single.” He is bookish, awkward, slow to pick up on that. His encyclopedic knowledge of rail schedules gives away that he’s really into trains.
His small talk is pattering on about the history of every village, hamlet and landmark they pass by.
“Lancaster — known as the hanging town.”
He is smitten, she in intrigued. So it’s not really a coincidence when he runs into her on the homebound train some days later. Thus begins an adorable love affair and marriage.
But Eric has night terrors, paralyzing seizures of fear set off by a phrase, a song on the radio. Patti, who loves him, needs answers.
“The Railway Man” is about the horrors the people who lived through the “Keep calm and carry on” era didn’t talk about. This slow, uneven drama is a different sort of British prisoner-of-war movie. And even if it stumbles on its way to its fairly obvious, politically correct conclusion, it’s still worthwhile as a closer read on history than the decades of WWII movies that preceded it.
Because it’s good to remember that the construction of the bridge over the River Kwai wasn’t all British stiff upper lips, jolly-good-sport-playing head games with the Japanese, whistling the “Colonel Bogey March.”
For those who lived through it — prisoners of war worked to death as slave labor under inhuman conditions in the jungles of Thailand — it was a fetid, living hell.
Patti Lomax has to pry information out of Eric’s peers, the men who meet to not talk about what they went through together building that Thai-Burma Railway. Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) is dismissive, but eventually he fills her in on what they all have been living with for 40 years (the movie is set in 1980).