The Railway Man



Former POW can't shake wartime cruelty in sluggish drama.
  • Review Date: April 12, 2014
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2014
  • Running Time: 116 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The main character is long driven by revenge, but once he finally comes face to face with the man who tortured him long ago in a WWII POW camp, the former prisoner must choose whether he wants to act from rage or from forgiveness.

Positive role models

As a young man, Eric chooses to sacrifice himself to save his friends -- a noble act that leads to unspeakable torture. As an adult, he keeps this history bottled up, making it difficult for him to open up to his wife. Other men are equally damaged by their wartime experiences.


Many sequences show soldiers being abused in a Japanese POW camp, including vicious beatings, cruel interrogations, and an extended water-torture scene. Prisoners who aren't tortured are starved and worked to the edge of death, and plenty of shots feature corpses or skeletons. One shot shows someone who has committed suicide.


A couple is shown embracing in bed in a tender moment. Some kissing.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some scenes show adults drinking in a pub.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Railway Man centers on an ex-soldier (Colin Firth) who was emotionally scarred by his years in a Japanese POW camp during WWII, to the point where he sometimes still imagines his captors are with him, decades later, torturing him anew. Nicole Kidman co-stars as his wife, who doesn't know how to handle these demons from the past when they rear their ugly heads -- in scenes that are likely too harrowing and intense for younger viewers. One scene also shows a character after having committed suicide. There's also some flirting, kissing, and social drinking, but the main issue of concern are the many scenes of POW torture. Themes of revenge and sacrifice are explored.

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) is haunted by his experiences decades ago as a prisoner of war during World War II. As a British soldier, he was captured and tortured by the Japanese while being forced to build the infamous Burma Railway. His new wife, Patti (Nicole Kidman), realizes that he's emotionally scarred, but Eric won't talk about what happened during the war. He can't. It's still too present for him. When a wartime pal reveals that one of their captors is alive and living in Thailand, making a living by leading tour groups through the prison camp, Eric sets off to confront his past. When the the men finally come face to face, former prisoner and former jailer, Eric must decide what kind of person he has become in the years since the war ended.

Is it any good?


THE RAILWAY MAN is a lesser movie than it should be, packaged as it is with gorgeous cinematography, atmospheric music, and a star-studded cast. In another time and place, it could have been Oscar bait. But this version is pulled in two different directions. It starts as what appears to be a romance, an exploration of the relationship between two equals, one more self-actualized than the other. But then it quickly becomes apparent that it's also a war movie. And in many ways, as the latter, it's sensitive, empathetic, and moving. If only it had just made up its mind.

You get the feeling that Kidman being cast as Eric's wife demanded a beefing up of their relationship storyline. Which would be fine, if the movie had actually given her more to do than just appear concerned and ready to come to the rescue of a damaged man. But that's not the case. And in its war movie incarnation, the film also falls short, pushing the audience to feel deeply when it doesn't deserve the commitment. It relies too heavily on music, pseudo-mysterious close-ups, and oblique references to secrets untold. Perhaps if the filmmakers had made a firm decision either way, the movie would have been better. But they didn't.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about The Railway Man's violence. How do the scenes of torture seen here compare to what you might seen in a horror movie? Which has more impact? Why? Does the movie need to be as graphic as it is to make its point?

  • How does Eric react when he finally meets the man who tortured him during the war? Would you have made the same choice? What message does the movie ultimately send?

  • Why won't Eric tell his wife about his wartime experiences? How does that affect their relationship? Does it seem realistic?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:April 11, 2014
DVD release date:August 12, 2014
Cast:Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgard
Director:Jonathan Teplitzky
Studio:Weinstein Co.
Topics:History, Trains
Run time:116 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:disturbing prisoner of war violence

This review of The Railway Man was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 17 years old Written byB-KMastah May 3, 2014

They had to have lost some of the script.

Sadly disappointing. I went in with rather muted expectations, looking forward to the two leads, but they actually don't have much to do here, and Nicole Kidman isn't really on screen enough to even call her a lead. The script itself is the problem here since it doesn't give the audience enough to grasp onto, either in terms of character development or morality. The acting is really good from everyone (obviously, given the cast), but the pacing is bad and that undercuts the actors' work. It's okay from a technical standpoint: the score is good but a bit distracting at times, but the film is shot rather well. These things work on their own right, but then the movie suddenly ends and it's like the they had to meet a deadline for the script but didn't finish the third act, and that just adds to how unfulfilling this movie is. 5.6/10, meh, two thumbs down (barely), below average, etc.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much violence


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Star Wars Guide