9:19am PT by Scott Feinberg
Toronto: Colin Firth's 'The Railway Man' Receives Standing Ovation
TORONTO -- On Friday night, the Toronto International Film Festival hosted the world premiere of Jonathan Teplitzky's The Railway Man at Roy Thomson Hall. (Teplitzky was previously at the fest with his films Better Than Sex and The Burning Man in 2000 and 2011, respectively.) The film, which is seeking U.S. distribution, is an adaptation of the late Eric Lomax's bestselling and award-winning 1995 memoir The Railway Man: A POW's Searing Account of War, Brutality and Forgiveness. It stars Oscar winners Colin Firth as Lomax and Nicole Kidman as his wife Patti, as well as War Horse star Jeremy Irvine, all of whom joined Teplitzky at the screening. The film received a sustained standing ovation after it ended -- particularly after Teplitzky came out and introduced Lomax's widow Patti, who was in the audience.
The Railway Man is set during the 1980s, but features numerous flashbacks to World War II, during which the younger Lomax, played by Irvine, and his comrades were captured by the Japanese. The Japanese assigned them to work on a line connecting Thailand to Burma, which became known as "the Railway of Death" because it was so difficult to construct that no one would even attempt it except for POWs who would otherwise face harsh punishment and sometimes even death. While in captivity, Lomax was regularly subjected to sadistic abuse by a Japanese interpreter, including vicious and relentless beatings and waterboarding that are hard to watch, and the film revolves around what happens when, a half-century later, he discovers that the Japanese man is still alive and giving tours at the scene of the crime. Suffice it to say that it's not what you might expect -- and people were very moved.
Films that have dealt with similar subject matter have resonated very strongly with the Academy. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), which also chronicles the POW experience, and both The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and The Hurt Locker (2009), which also looked at the challenges endured by war veterans as they try to return to their communities, all won best picture Oscars. This film is not nearly of their caliber, but it does feature some very strong performances -- particularly Firth's and Irvine's -- that could generate some awards buzz if the film is picked up and released this year. What is probably more likely, though, is that some distributor -- perhaps a Lionsgate-Roadside or a Focus Features -- will acquire it and give it a spring 2014 release, with the primary objective of finding an art house following (like Mud or The Place Beyond the Pines attracted this past spring) and the possibility that awards voters might remember it at the end of next year.
Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottFeinberg for additional news and analysis.