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The Railway Man (15) - Sunday Herald view

In a week when the darkest human behaviour dominates the new releases, Colin Firth stars as real-life Second World War veteran and Edinburgh man Eric Lomax, who spent 40 years traumatised by his experiences in a Japanese prison camp.

We first meet Lomax in 1980, in Berwick-upon-Tweed, glumly sitting at the back of a veterans' club meeting led by his former commanding officer (Stellan Skarsgard). A passion for trains is the only thing that engages this grey, introverted man, until he meets Patti (Nicole Kidman) on a rail journey though Scotland. She immediately wins the first of many medals for drawing the trainspotter out of his shell. But as soon as they marry, something in this new-found intimacy creates a crack in Lomax's internal defences. Suddenly, memories flood back, and he falls apart.

As Patti sets out to learn the truth about her husband's past, director Jonathan Teplitzky takes us back to the events following the fall of Singapore in 1942.

The young Lomax (Jeremy Irvine), a signals engineer, is one of thousands of British soldiers taken prisoner by the Japanese and put to work on the infamous Death Railway (the subject, too, of David Lean's classic The Bridge On The River Kwai).

In the flashbacks we see the brutality, including torture experienced by Lomax and his friends; in the present, Patti discovers that Eric's nemesis is still alive, offering her husband an unexpected opportunity to exorcise his demons.

Like 12 Years A Slave, this has been adapted from a memoir. While it lacks the cinematic intelligence that Steve McQueen brings to the other film - some of the direction is quite turgid - there is no denying the power of the story itself. Of the actors, Irvine is particularly impressive.

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