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Based on Pat Barker's novel of the same name, 'Regeneration' tells the story of soldiers of World War One sent to an asylum for emotional troubles. Two of the soldiers meeting there are Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, two of England's most important WW1 poets. Written by
Daniel Roy <email@example.com>
A talky but thought provoking and original angle on War
Beginning with a fluid bird-eye-view shot tracking across the corpse-strewn muddy trenches of First World War Northern France, we are introduced to the character of the real-life war-poet Siegfried Sassoon (James Wilby), as he is shipped home and placed in Craiglockhart, a castle in Scotland being used as a military-run psychiatric hospital for soldiers suffering from war-neuroses. Sassoon's particular neurosis is little more than a conscious objection to the direction in which the war has turned in it's latter stages (1917), bringing him into conflict with the British military establishment (who had previously awarded him a Military Cross for bravery), and in particular psychiatrist Dr William Rivers (the ever reliable Jonathan Pryce), who is charged with the task of treating the various traumatised soldiers under his domain.
Taking a rather different approach from the 'war-is-hell' mass-entertainment spectacle of Spielberg's recent 'Saving Private Ryan' and Terence Malick's elliptical 'The Thin Red Line' (both made in 1998), 'Regeneration' evades easy solutions and focuses on the psychological horrors of war in a more low-key and balanced manner. The horrific battle scenes are largely eluded to in flashback, invoked during the well-meaning Pryce's therapy sessions, which utilise the entire arsenal of early Freudian psychotherapy, from dream-analysis to hypnotism as well as more quirky techniques such as putting shell-shocked officers in charge of troops of boy scouts in order to help them regain confidence in their leadership abilities. The central perplexity here is that the soldiers are being cured with the intention of sending them straight back to the front line.
With this and his following film, 'Hideous Kinky', Gillies MacKinnon is emerging as one of the most thought-provoking and technically accomplished British directors working at the moment, adopting an expressionistic cinematic style here which utilises the dark forbidding milieu of the hospital and the surrounding bleak, autumnal countryside to full claustrophobic effect. There are problems here, in the way that the script concentrates on a number of patients, including an angst-ridden Jonny Lee Miller (in his first post-Trainspotting role) who begins the film mute, without fully exploring the relationships between them, but it successfully establishes itself within a convincing historical context whilst challenging the proposition that Britain was united in its conviction to the First World War (of particular relevance today, given our involvement in the bombings of Kosovo and Iraq). Whilst not immediately accessible, it is a film that demands and rewards the closest of attention, and bodes well for future films from the director. Based on the 'Regeneration' trilogy of novels by Pat Barker.
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