TORONTO - Actor Colin Firth said on Saturday he felt a special sense of obligation portraying the true story of a British soldier who was tortured and then suffered for decades before finding the strength to forgive his captors.
In "The Railway Man," which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday, Firth portrays World War Two veteran Eric Lomax, who was captured by the Japanese and spent years as a prisoner of war.
"You just want to be absolutely sure that you don't drop the baton, that you don't compromise how well this story has been told up to now, despite your limitations. Such care has been taken to get the truth out there," Firth, who won an Oscar in 2011 for his performance in "The King's Speech," told reporters in Toronto.
The film begins in the later decades of Lomax's life, when he meets and falls in love with his future wife Patti, played by Nicole Kidman. Their marriage was tested by his nightmares and breakdowns, a legacy of the beatings and other torture he suffered.
Lomax is forced to confront his past when he learns that Takashi Nagase, the young English-speaking officer who participated in his brutal interrogations, is still alive.
Screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce said that sadly, while the film is historical, topics like the trauma of torture victims and returning soldiers are as relevant as ever.
"The way that Eric was tortured was water-boarding. When we first started working on this film, that seemed like a kind of antique, remote thing. And now it's part of how we do business in the West," he told reporters.
"These are very alive issues. It's not just about a forgotten moment in history.
But the filmmakers drew inspiration from the outcome of Lomax's story. After confronting Nagase, he was able to forgive his former captor, and the two became friends. Lomax eventually recounted the events in a memoir, also called "The Railway Man."
The film drew a standing ovation following its premiere in Toronto on Friday, though reviews were mixed. Variety and The Hollywood Reporter both commended the performances of Firth and Kidman, but were critical of the structure and direction.
Still, the production team won praise from the real Patti Lomax, who acted as an adviser.
"There's another point to this film, and that's no matter how bleak life might be, there's always a way forward if you're open to see it," she told reporters in Toronto.
"You have to let these things go one way or another. And I think really, that is the legacy that my husband has left more than anything else."