Thursday, January 16, 2014

Love on the 7:39

“I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.”

Whether Tennyson’s paean to love would be quite how the star-crossed lovers in “The 7:39”  a television film written by David Nicholls would see it I’m not quite sure. But I think they would. “No regrets” says Carl (David Morrissey) at the end – and Sally (Sheridan Smith) replies that he doesn't need to say that “because you don't mean it”. But that is not said in any spirit of bitterness but more as a statement of the obvious – there is no future for either of them other than the one they choose. To be apart. And so there must be regrets – they have loved, and lost.

David Nicholls is the author of the  novel and Film “One Day” which was clever and sad and which showed the author’s exceptional feel for female characters and the female psyche. Emma in “One Day” has some similarities with Sally in “The 7:39” – bright, attractive and more vulnerable than she will admit. Sally is entering her 30s with a failed marriage behind her but in a permanent relationship with Ryan (Sean Maguire) who she is going to marry. He is a well-meaning but empty stud who has little self-doubt and even before Sally meets Carl you can see that she is having doubts about a Life of Ryan. So when she bumps into Carl on the 7:39 train, which they both use for their daily commute to London, perhaps she is, without really knowing it, ready for a bit of a fling. And maybe Carl is as well but for different reasons.

Carl (mid forties) is married to Maggie (Olivia Colman) and they are your archetypical middle-class suburban family. Two slightly surly teenage children. A nice house in a leafy Surrey town with a good train service to Waterloo. He is a sales manager at a London commercial property firm with a younger boss (Justin Salinger) – a menacing, ambitious, deeply unpleasant man who asserts his authority and manages in an uncaring way. Carl doesn't much like his job, despises his boss and probably thinks that he could have done better in life than  be where he is. But the pay is good and he needs the money – his children are approaching University age and that has to be paid for. But its all a bit predictable and repetitive  the family, the commuting, the work… we are firmly in mid-life-crisis territory here.

So when Sally meets Carl each of them has a hidden reason to explain why they might have a fling. But this is more than a fling and much more than just fun between the sheets. When on the discovery of the affair Maggie asks Carl if it is “love” he stutteringly he admits that it is. For Sally it is perhaps love by comparison with what she has with Ryan – a relationship which is rather over-graphically physical but in truth not much else. He’s a bit of a dick – and not much more. She was perhaps seeking an excuse to walk away from Ryan – Carl has no reason to want to walk away from Maggie and his children, but love makes him do it.

This is a feature film length story and indeed could easily haver been cut as one whole rather than two one hour parts. It is tightly directed with some good location shooting on the South Bank and across the river in and around Aldwych. There is an authenticity about the story which the locations enhance but which is underpinned by the truly outstanding performances by the three principals. Morrissey is utterly convincing as the man with the crisis. Olivia Colman quite brilliant as the betrayed wife. Her controlled fury when she finds out about the affair is exceptional acting by this actress at the top of her form. And Sheridan Smith can do more with a gentle glance and a silent smile than many actresses with half a page of dialogue! Her attractiveness is not that of a plastic femme fatale and she is much more than the  pretty girl next door. She is a mature woman, who has lived rather more than her years would suggest – she has a good job that she is proficient at and is in control of her life. Until Carl comes along anyway. But even though she is rather swept away by Carl she is still in control and she knows her assets. When she dresses up for the dinner on the evening when the affair gets properly underway she looks divine. If the relationship doesn't develop it won’t be for wan739t of her trying ! Later she knows exactly what she is doing when she dresses is tight jeans for the day out the lovers have together sightseeing!

“One Day” was a devastatingly sad story and in a way “The 7:39” is as well. Let’s hope that David Nicholls can find a way towards a happy ending soon! That said does the love being lost in the story really make it unhappy? At the end (two years on) we see Carl returned to his family and Sally with a baby and new man looking cheerful. But Carl’s smile as he spots this from a distance (and gets a wave of recognition from Sally) suggests that there were some “might have beens” that he regrets.

Monday, January 13, 2014

"The Railway Man" - the route to forgiveness gives two tortured souls new life

So what would be your response if you were held in captivity for three years, beaten, tortured, humiliated and forced to work endless days in appalling conditions. If some of your fellow captives were summarily executed on trumped up charges. If every aspect of your dignity as a human being was removed. If your captors regarded you as a coward for not having killed yourself rather than be captured. If you and thousands like you were regarded as slaves, instantly disposable once you could no longer work through illness or incapacity. What would be your response if years later you came face to face with one of the worst of your torturers? That is the key question posed in the film "The Railway Man" - the story of Eric Lomax who survived these grotesque privations on the Burma Railway at the hands of the Japanese.

Lomax's captivity lasted three and a half years before, after the Japanese surrender in August 1945, he was able to go home. If nominally his captivity was a comparatively brief period in what was to be a long life in fact for more than thirty years the scars of this dreadful time failed to heal. Hardly surprisingly. In 1980, at the age of 61, he met a woman, Patti, some 17 years his junior and they were to marry and gradually with her he began to address his demons for the first time. By chance a Japanese newspaper was found which featured a story about Lomax's torturer in chief - Takashi Nagase. This man was working as a tour guide in Kanchanaburi the town in Thailand which was the operational hub for the Burma Railway and which was frequently visited by tourists viewing what is left of the railway and the Bridge on the River Kwai.  Lomax decides to visit Thailand and confront Nagase, a sensitive man who clearly had been wrestling with demons as well - if rather different ones.

The reconciliation between Lomax and Nagase forms the climax of the film. It is moving and would be seen as improbably sentimental were it fiction. But it is a true story. Neither man is judgmental in the end - Nagase's apology is heartfelt and Lomax's acceptance of it generous. The production values of this remarkable movie are high and the performances mostly very good. Colin Firth as Lomax is believable and Jeremy Irvine as the young Lomax equally so. Nicole Kidman as Patti doesn't look quite right - she is just too beautiful and slightly plastic looking, though her portrayal is sympathetic. The scenes in the Prisoner of War camp and on the railway construction site are convincingly harrowing. 

Can we ever know what it was like to have been a captive on the Burma railway unless we were there? One of the themes of the film is how difficult it was for the returned soldiers to talk about their experience. I know this personally from first hand because my own father was a prisoner with Eric Lomax. They were both captured at Singapore, both young officers and both to be sent to work on the railway. Indeed the key event in the camp in the film rings especially true - this is when the officers put together a clandestine radio to listen to short wave broadcasts from London of news about the war. My father, like Lomax, was part of a radio team - he was the guardian of the headphone which, he told me, he hid in a hollowed out part of his shoe. I don't think that it was actually Lomax's radio - although it could have been. Whether my father was beaten and tortured as Lomax was I do not know - he never talked about it - and it's now sadly twenty years too late to ask him. 

There are many lessons to be learned from Eric Lomax's story and from this fine film. Perhaps the most important is that it can be part of our human nature to forgive. If Eric Lomax could forgive Takashi Nagase then anything can be forgiven, at least if there is genuine contrition as there seems to have been from this Japanese man whose own suffering is also brought to an end by the reconciliation.