'Railway Man' revisits war prisoner's horror and forgiveness

Thu Apr 10, 2014 4:35pm EDT
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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Shortly before wrapping up filming for "The Railway Man," a World War Two drama about a former British Army officer and victim of torture, actor Colin Firth dreamt he was drawing a map of a railway but was bluffing and didn't know how to do it.

The English Oscar-winner saw the dream as a metaphor for the film, based on a true story and best-selling autobiography, and the responsibility he felt in portraying a man who had suffered in silence for decades before finding the power of forgiveness.

"I was supposed to know and I didn't know. And in the dream there were old men needing me to get it right, saying you've got to join it up. You've got to say where it goes," the actor said in an interview ahead of the film's U.S. release on Friday.

Firth, 53, plays Eric Lomax, a man with a passion for trains and railway timetables who meets his wife on a train decades after he had been tortured as a prisoner of war during the building of the Thailand-Burma Railway, or what became known as the "Death Railway."

The railway, built by the Empire of Japan in 1943 to support its attack on the British colony of Burma, used forced labor, including Asian civilians and Allied prisoners of war, many thousands of whom died of beatings, disease, starvation and exhaustion.

Like many men of his generation Lomax didn't talk about the war but relived his experiences in nightmares, until he was coaxed into confronting his demons and tormentor.

Firth won a best actor Oscar in 2011 for "The King's Speech," about King George VI's battle to overcome a speech impediment, and was no stranger to playing silent, brooding types.

But Lomax's harrowing story of the suffering of thousands of prisoners of war, the torture inflicted by their captors and their inner torment was different.   Continued...

British actor Colin Firth attends the Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match between Arsenal and Bayern Munich at the Emirates Stadium in London February 19, 2014. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh