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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
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Regeneration treats its audience with respect. The dramatic denouement and characters are not simply laid bare for a popcorn-audience to mindlessly digest. The film unfolds, the scenarios develop, the characters live and breath the ugly reality of warfare. And this all happens in a natural, credible manner beautifully shot and paced by the under-rated Gillies McKinnon.
The opening aerial shot of the bloody consequences of battle are every bit the emotional and visceral equal of Spielberg's lauded 20-minute opening sequence in Saving Private Ryan. The rest of the film - in my opinion - surpasses Ryan as a whole in terms of its drama, poetry, anguish and thought.
The performances are outstanding. Jonathan Pryce's portrayal of Rivers falling apart at the seams as he adopts the neuroses and trauma of his patients is astonishing. Johnny Lee Miller is also excellent as the (initially) mute soldier, haunted by the brutality of a trench-attack. James Wilby's Siegfried Sassoon is perhaps the toughest role to play in the film and yet he surpasses any prior (or subsequent) performances with a characterisation that swings from harsh to likeable, strong to weak, right to wrong.
All of the numerous storylines are well constructed and followed to their natural conclusion. There are no false avenues; no bum notes; no waste.
The source material is beautifully adapted for the film (by the rare breed of writer-producer, Allan Scott), losing none of its pace or characterisation. The emotional weight so prominent in Barker's novel are perfectly transferred into the movie. How wonderful for a modern film to have non-stereotypical, imperfect lead characters and lack easy conclusions. How beautifully evoked is the friendship between Sassoon and Owen. There is no sacharine sentiment in this movie; nor artificial shock to induce pity; nor a wasted scene or moment of dialogue. Equally, the period look of the film is stunning. Filmed in Scotland, the vistas are beautifully bleak and wintry. The atmosphere of the First World War is all too frighteningly real.
The music, whilst beautiful, is perfectly restrained. Harking back to the films of the seventies, long moments of silence pervade Regeneration. How did things go so badly wrong in the last twenty years in this respect?
Regeneration achieves the very rare distinction of matching (if not surpassing) the beautiful and moving novel on which it is based. Thoughtful film-goers should treat themselves to this wonderful and intelligent film.
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