You know, the Great War is the one I find most moving in all of history. Just the thought of those young men, trapped in mires of mud, being shot to pieces and blasted to bits is enough to get my chest heaving. So when I heard the BBC were adapting the Sebastian Faulks novel BIRDSONG for a two-part adaptation, I was looking forward to it.
Oh dear. Like the Christmastime version of GREAT EXPECTATIONS, they've dropped the ball again with a production that has too many flaws to be taken seriously. Firstly, the three hour running time is far too long. Important passages are condensed (no doubt due to the budgetary constraints of the battle sequences) and other scenes are s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d out so that they become endlessly dull.
Eddie Redmayne is a superb actor given the right role - see him in THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH for an example of this. But he's utterly miscast here, far too young to be playing a world-weary guy, and he just doesn't have the gravitas to pull it off. Maybe in a decade's time, but certainly not now. I can't really fault the lovely Clemence Poesy playing opposite him, but Redmayne alone is enough to put you off.
It's all about characters quietly staring at each other for minutes on end interspersed with mad, passionate sex. But the central character is so selfish and conceited that that's what it is - just sex, not romance. The other half of the running time concerns the battle scenes, and boy are these bad. Not only are they repetitive - how many times does Redmayne supposedly die only to come back? - but they ring hollow. Hurried scenes of soldiers scribbling letters to loved ones the night before a battle does not make their later deaths emotional, it just reeks of contrivance and an artificial attempt to make the viewer care. Oh, and it turns out Redmayne's a coward, too.
It says something when a supporting actor (Joseph Mawle) gives by far the best performance of them all. I've actually had the Faulks novel sitting on my shelf unread for years - like so many books - but I'm going to be in no hurry to dig it out until memories of this have long faded. As for Abi Morgan, the scriptwriter, who previously brought the above-average miniseries THE HOUR to our screens - what went wrong?
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