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The Railway Man: Jonathan Teplitzky

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Based on the wartime experiences of Eric Lomax as a POW building the Thai-Burma railway, The Railway Man tells an inspirational tale of human survival. We had a chance recently to talk to its director, Jonathan Teplitzky.

Wishing to do justice to the amazing real life story, the production was very interested in getting the cooperation and contribution of the Lomax family. “The Lomaxes were very forthcoming, very open. When you get to know people over a period of time, you build up a degree of trust.” states Teplitzky. “When you try an make a film about real people’s lives, that’s a big part of it. The responsibility of honouring their story and putting it onto film is a big one. They read each draft of the script, and we talked a great deal to them.”

“It’s sort of a portrait of the very best and very worst of human nature. In a sense it has these big themes. If you were to ask anyone a question ‘what is it to be human?’ In a way watching The Railway Man highlights two of the things I think define us as a human being, and that is what we are capable of, both very bad and very good, in terms of how we behave and how we respond to other human beings.”

At times harrowing, The Railway Man doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the treatment, nor does it linger on the blows, instead showing their effects. “It was very important for the dark elements of the story to be told as that defines and contextualises the reconciliation that takes place. Where Eric gets to is so remarkable, that it would be devalued not to understand where he came from and what he survived. To imagine anyone would have survived what he survived is remarkable in some way.”

Filmed across three continents, The Railway Man used many of the actual locations, both in Scotland and on the Thai-Burma railway. “To actually be able to stand and walk up the Burma railway, to feel the history that has gone on there. It’s an incredibly humbling experience to go through that. You can’t help but be touched and affected by the degree of suffering, the degree of brutality, It’s such an inhospitable place. To survive that with so little to eat, so little water, basically having to work as a slave, is a testament to the survival instincts of mankind really”

“Jeremy Irvine and Sam Reid (young Eric and Finlay) spent a day with a local gang, clearing jungle and bamboo out of one of the cuttings they’re trying to reclaim from the jungle. It was great, it really informed them what it was to do that, but they came back totally knackered. It gave them a little taste of what it was like to do that, but with an end not in sight. Certainly not with a nice comfortable hotel bed and a cold beer to come home to.”

As for what the future holds. Having been so busy with The Railway Man and Burning Man back to back, he has only started to write another screenplay, but hopefully one of the other projects he is developing will see fruition next year.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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