04/11/2014 08:03 pm ET Updated Jun 11, 2014

The Railway Man: Colin Firth Working on the Railroad

Patti Lomax never heard of Colin Firth when he came to visit her husband Eric Lomax in Berwick Upon Tweed, their home in the northernmost part of England, just a 45-minute train ride to Edinburgh. Firth was researching his role in The Railway Man, based on Lomax' life story. When other women were swooning over Firth's Mr. Darby in Pride and Prejudice, she told a reporter at the film's premiere party at Rouge Tomate this week, she was not attending movies because her husband had a neurological disorder, perhaps connected to the time he was a British prisoner of war, in forced labor in Singapore, and tortured by his Japanese tormentors. "They captured a great deal about Eric," she noted in praise of Colin Firth's performance, that of the actor Jeremy Irvine who plays him as a younger man, and the production under Jonathan Teplitzky's direction.

Nicole Kidman plays Patti in the movie. It is not a big leading lady part, but Kidman and Firth were looking for a project in which they could work together when this one came along. Mostly, the wife's role is to keep Lomax alive, given his sudden and debilitating flashbacks to unimaginable travails at the hands of his torturers, one in particular: Tanroe Ishida, a London-based actor, plays Takashi Nagase, the young sadistic interpreter, while LA resident Hiroyuki Sanada is the older Nagase, his gaze transformed, Zenlike. Neither one knew the details of this history before being cast.

Stories of war involving torture are hard to sell, said co-producer/ co-writer Andy Paterson about the 15-year journey, after Eric Lomax' gripping memoir, The Railway Man, came out in 1995. In both the book and movie, post-trauma survival rests in the fantasy of revenge that ends in forgiveness. That theme would be so hard to pull off successfully, but this movie does so with grace. How is it possible to forgive a torturer? Lomax goes back to the scene and finds Nagase, now a tour guide at a museum. Looking to murder him, Lomax begins a frightening interrogation, the reverse of his terrifying time decades before. Recently returned from the Tokyo Film Festival, The Railway Man team was pleased with the Japanese audience's reception to this story, a bit of their untoward history on which they have remained silent.

Eric Lomax died at age 93 in 2012, having visited the movie set. As to Colin Firth, talk about contrasts: his next movie is Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight, a comedy set in the 1920s.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.