THE RAILWAY MAN
Edinburgh, Eric Lomax's home town, provided the perfect base for the Scottish
shoot. The Bo'Ness and Kinneil private railway, run by enthusiasts and
volunteers, had working trains and stations. Perth station had beautiful period
platforms, some of which are no longer used by the network, making them easier
for filming. North Berwick provided a wonderful house on a beach. Even more
crucial for the filmmakers and Patti Lomax, it meant they were in reach of
Berwick-upon-Tweed, where the story is really set. For Kidman, a special moment
She had chosen not to meet the real Patti thus far. "I didn't want to meet
her until I'd started. I'd read a lot, and seen interviews where she told a lot
of her story and was very open, but I just felt nervous to meet her. So it was
actually the perfect way because we were shooting in her town and we drove to
their house and sat in the living room. Patti, Eric, Colin and I talked and
there were tears and laughter and a connection. It felt very pure. I got to walk
through her garden with her - we both love
flowers and bonded over that. It was just for me a very gentle way to meet this
person I was trying to portray."
Thailand was where the cast began to understand a little more of what Eric
and tens of thousands of others had experienced. The actual Death Railway line
still operates, largely for tourists, from Bangkok as far as Kanchanaburi and
forty miles beyond. Irvine discovered what happened after that.
"When we reached Thailand our military advisor, Rod Beattie, took Sam Reid
(Young Finlay) and I up into the mountains, to a section of the railway which
had been reclaimed by the jungle. We helped him clear a section of it. You're
working there in 40 degree heat and 98% humidity with just hand tools as the
POWs would have done. We did maybe an hour and a half and I was wrecked. You're
dripping sweat from the moment you get out of the van and we weren't even
lugging all our kit with us. To imagine doing that for 16 hours a day on such
meager food rations and very little water, was a very big moment. It really
brought it home. When visiting the real Hellfire Pass, you get a sense that
these places are haunted by the thousands and thousands of young boys, three
years younger than me, who were doing this work. It was an intense experience."
Firth agrees. "Something immense happened there and it can't fail to leave a
mark, whether it's the power of your imagination or not. It was something beyond
the comprehension of most people. You stand in a huge cutting in the rock
towering above you, and you're told this was carved by men with hand tools in
the space of six weeks and this is how many men died just here. It's shattering
actually. I saw several documentaries, one with an Aussie who said "I don't
believe in the supernatural, but those boys walk here."
Kidman had been warned by Patti Lomax: "She said to be careful when you get
to Hellfire Pass. It has a power. There's just something thereâ€¦you can feel the
darkness and it stays with you. Patti said the moment she absorbed it, when she
first visited, she wept, not just for Eric but for all the boys there, and Eric
That scene was shot on Eric Lomax's 93rd birthday. A very special greeting
from Firth, Kidman and the entire crew was sent from Hellfire Pass to
Berwick-upon-Tweed. It's one of Jonathan Teplitzky's happiest memories of the
shoot: "Getting everyone to sing Happy Birthday to Eric in Hintok Pass was
pretty profound, that we could record it on an iPhone and email it to him so he
could watch it a few hours later when he woke up."
After the freezing weather in Scotland and the intense tropical heat of the
Thai jungle, the filmmakers moved on to the Gold Coast in Queensland, where the
prisoner of war camp and the studio sets were being built. For production
designer Steven Jones-Evans, the greatest challenge had been the sheer physical
separation of the locations. "We prepped in Queensland, then had to go off and
prep and shoot Scotland and Thailand. By the time we got back to Australia we'd
been away for three months." Producer Chris Brown says: "Over the five years
that Andy Paterson and I worked on the project, authenticity and the book were
our touchstones, so the look of the picture was crucial. Steven did a fantastic
job. The prisoner of war camp was the
most extraordinary construction, based on original plans - perfectly authentic
down to the last stick."
Teplitzky was confident. "You feel as if you can go into any battle if you
have a team you trust and we were lucky enough to have the whole team from our
previous film, BURNING MAN. You share an aesthetic, you know they all understand
what we're trying to achieve and they have great taste in people."
The weather added the final touches to the design; tropical storms moved in
over the camp. Again, Teplitzky loved it. "The rain helped the film," he notes.
"Filming waist deep in mud was tough but it felt right. The rainy season in 1943
was the worst time of all for the POWs. It raised our adventure to new heights
and demanded a lot of everyone but no one was going to complain. We were all
humbled by the tiny inkling it gave us of what the real people must have gone
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