Birdsong (TV Mini-Series 2012) Poster


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Like the novel this is one to melt into
huskydog10129 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I will begin by saying that I am a fan of the novel and that I entered into this adaptation with some trepidation. I need not have. It's not the same as the novel, as no TV/adaptation ever is, but it is true to it. It's true to the feel more so than sticking religiously to the story. Without giving too much away the scenes set in 1910 are thick and heavy with meaning and heat and sexual frustration. They're meant to be slow, lazy, decadent days; they are the kind of days you want to sink your teeth into. The colours are lush and rich. They contrast beautifully with the war scenes, with their bleached, washed out palette. This is an unfamiliar and alien land but visually it has it's own striking features. The first days of the Somme, the battle we're leading up to, were fought in heat and dust and dirt. The rain and the mud came later.

The main characters are not meant to be likable. They begin as self focused, blinkered lovers and end as broken and damaged souls. Their self obsession runs deep, they hurt those around them and they leave little left of one another. Both actors portray this well. They're short on time to go from strangers to obsessive lovers, not a problem the novel has, but the glances are weighty and they're both rather wonderful to look at, like the well bred, out of control aristocrats they portray, all lips, eyes and cheekbones.

It's slow, it's interwoven and it involves a certain amount of accepting that love, war and sex can lead to all sorts of madness but if you let yourself melt into it I don't think you'll be sorry. If you then read the novel you'll be less sorry still.
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Outstanding Gets my vote for Best Movie of 2012
TexasRedge27 April 2013
First let me say that there are not enough movies made about WWI. Thats a shame.

I didn't read the book, in fact I had never heard of this until one night in May of 2012, when I had promised to take my daughter to see "The Avengers" only to discover it was sold out when we got to the theater. We came back home and turned on the TV set and this movie was about to come on. Being a fan of WWI movies like "The Lost Battalion","Flyboys" and "The Trench", I thought that I'd give this movie a look.

I was so glad I watched this movie. I was glued to my TV for both nights that it was on. I found the story gripping and moving. I didn't want to get out of my chair (not even to go get a soda from the refrigerator). I found the cinematography to be absolutely beautiful. The battle scenes were very moving, I felt like I was down in that crawlspace with them. I know that most people will call this a love story, but I would call it a human story. Amazing Story about coming of age, falling in love and going to war. I cant praise this movie enough.

The acting is very well done, The Cinematography is amazing, the sets are very realistic, and the music score is good. I loved this movie. After watching a serious emotional movie like this, I wasn't in the mood to see cartoon-ish movie like "The Avengers" for a while.

I loved this movie I purchased a copy on DVD
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Very good for what they had to work with
imattheendofmytether30 January 2012
Interesting backlash on this adaptation, this is the trouble when you try and put the subtlety of words in to pictures. I thought it was a great adaptation; I read the book and was pleased they got the main themes in (all bar the third storyline). I remember reading the book and not liking Stephen much and I didn't like him much here either and that continuity was pleasing. Yes some of it failed to get going, I thought the scene with the old lady and her daughter in the book was much more fraught and tense. But you know what, that was me reading into the work, you can't really do that when you are watching it. The graphics were a real weak link, the CGI battlefields were pitiful, lots of emotion as usual a distinct lack of blood or pain! With the centenary of the First World War coming up I can imagine they are holding some of their war cards close to their chest, but they could have put a little more effort into that. I enjoyed the acting and what they conveyed in a short space of time. I would have liked to have seen more character development of the soldiers, but hay we can't have everything. In all I thought it was a worthy piece of drama, and to all those who go on about the oral sex scene being unrealistic. Are you all experts in early 20th Century sexual practises?
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If you like Eddie Redmayne, and I do...
hughman5523 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I just watched "Birdsong" on PBS. Didn't know anything about it other than it had Eddie Redmayne in it. His work in "Savage Grace", "The Good Shepherd", and "Les Miserable" sets him apart from other actors of his generation. As does his work here. He pretty much carries "Birdsong" on his shoulders singlehandedly which saved this fairly flawed film. It is a "made for TV product" but on some levels; acting, art direction, and cinematography, it's Oscar material - and then at others like; screenplay, and... well, really just the screenplay, it's a mess. That being said, the essence of what the movie is trying to convey is more than vaulted into the viewers mind and senses. This three hour "thing" I just watched is more of a performance (Redmayne) than a film. Fortunately that worked because Redmayne's performance is a powerful sensory overload that is moving and overwhelming. He could do the whole film without ever uttering a word and you'd walk away knowing; that war is hell, how it ruins people, how it makes heroes of some and distant memories of others, and that the carnage of war can come in the form of a letter from home as lethally as from a bomb or a bullet. I, personally, believe that Eddie Redmayne is one of the most gifted actors working today. It's in his eyes. Every wonderful, horrible, moment.

Stephen, the main character played by Eddie Redmayne, is in France on the front line during WWI. He is a harsh and aloof lieutenant. In one of the opening scenes, however, a soldier is fatally wounded and Stephen holds his hand as he is dying and asks him, "do you have a sweetheart", "what's her name", "hold on", "think of the last thing you said to her and the first thing you'll say when you see her again". He knows he'll never see his sweetheart again but maybe this soldier saw her beautiful face in his mind before he died instead of the hellscape he died in. The woman Stephen loved and lost scrolls through his mind constantly. His memory of her is what keeps him alive and believing there will be a tomorrow beyond the hell he is in now. Their story is told, you will see, in recollections and flashbacks during his worst times at war. Those memories are his only grasp on sanity in an insane place.

So, this is a war story, and we've seen them before. Right? Right. However, having visited the very moving and sobering Viet Nam War Memorial in Washington, DC, and the American Cemetery in Normandy, France (three times - one of the saddest and most beautiful places on Earth), as effective as those experiences were, they don't, and aren't meant to, convey the terror and madness experienced by those soldiers when they died. This film and its stars, come about as close as one can to showing us what it is like to hold a dying soldiers hand, to be mortally wounded, to see in your mind the faces of the ones you love as your life slips away from you, or how random life and death on the battlefield can be. It's in their eyes. It's especially in the eyes of Eddie Redmayne.

So, despite the fact that the script has real problems and the editing not much better (another reviewer mentioned that piano arpeggio "borrowed" from Avo Part's "Spiegle Im Spiegle"? Overdone does not come close to describing how much this plot device was overused), the film succeeds in many ways and on many levels. One of those is the acting from Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Mawle, and Richard Madden. They effectively establish the bond between men who share the life and death experiences of an ugly war. In particular, the storyline between Redmayne's character, Stephen Wraysford, and Joseph Mawle's character, Jack Firebrace, is powerful. It, more than the love story, in the fulcrum of this narrative. Their performances convey what a mind and body are put through when they're at war, and the inevitable carnage that will live in the memory forever of one of them and die with the other. Through their relationship, Stephen becomes a man.

And while I don't like doing this, I am going to take issue with some of the reviews I've read here that attack the lead actor based on his looks and acting skill. As for the looks, since when is a soldier supposed to look like anything more than an average guy? Because that's who goes to war. Average, regular, guys. Though I would also take issue with describing Redmayne as "average". He has a compelling on screen handsomeness that is undeniable. As for the swipes at his acting skills, especially that he is "wooden" (?), everyone is entitled to an opinion, I just gave mine, but some of these comments read like they were written by someone using an alias who was up for the lead role and didn't get it. Seriously. Eddie Redmayne can find a perfect pitch in any role he does. His filmography has a varied scope of characters that he has played with a realness that is unparalleled. While others "act", he "lives" the characters he plays on screen. This film is very much worth consideration.
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Poetic and romantic
eapplebaum29 December 2012
Although there was a lot left out of the original book, the storytelling in this TV miniseries was beautiful. I have been loving Eddie Redmayne for a while now, but after this film, I'm hooked! I am in love with him as was Isabelle. :) I loved the actress who played her as well. She reminded me of young Juliette Binoche. I thought it was a passionate and beautifully told story. The cinematography was spectacular and the massive destruction that WWII left was very well depicted here. More films should show how the Wealthy Upper classes acted as the Generals who would order the lower classes to put themselves on the frontlines basically for suicide missions to keep everyone else in good standing, including those who sat around thinking up brilliant ideas to have innocent young soldiers killed.
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watch it, its rather good.
b-lawson2323 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I would recommend this to anybody that likes a good romance or historical drama.

I personal thought the storyline was fantastic and having not read the book i really want to read it now. the actors are brilliant and the two main actors have great chemistry and play the individual parts amazingly.

i think Philip Martin's work unbelievably good and i think this was one of his greatest works.

I want to be a director when i'm older and this is exactly the sort of i want to direct.

The drama reminded me of Atonment quite a lot, particularly the romance side of it anyway. The rest of the cast was superb as well. for example, you have Richard Madden and Joseph Mawle from a Game of Thrones.

Each character has different sides to them and they react differently to the events throughout the drama. in the scenes where Stephen is in the trenches you get a feeling of what is was like to be in the trenches back then, obviously unless you were there, we really have no idea of what the terrible things the brave soldiers must have seen.

The music for this drama is a beautiful piece with only piano and violins playing softly in the background, there is a lovely simplicity to it and i love it. The buildings and the clothes are wonderful and i deeply enjoy dramas where it is set in the early nineteen hundreds as you get a feel of what it was like back then.

I thought this was truly a master piece and i loved every second of it. It made me cry, in fact, i couldn't stop for a while... and i was left wanting more and wanting to find out what happens next...

If you enjoyed it. Then like me, you will have something to look forward to during the week.

thanks for reading... enjoy Birdsong
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"There is nothing more, sir, than to love and be loved"
doug_park200118 June 2013
First of all, BIRDSONG is beautifully filmed and acted. Joseph Mawle is especially memorable as Jack Firebrace--who I quote in my title here--a friend and sort of foil character to the protagonist (Stephen Wraysford) played by Eddie Redmayne. Agree: American audiences may find all the British brogues a bit hard to follow without the subtitles.

While there is a palpable storyline and a good surprise at the end, BIRDSONG appeals more to the heart than to the head. It's quite a sad story, of course, but it avoids going too far in the direction of melodrama. It successfully incorporates some really huge themes: Love, forgiveness, loyalty, and others. There is also a great deal of WWI battle footage: BIRDSONG will probably appeal to most war film aficionados. Warning: Some really graphic scenes of carnage at the Somme and various other battles.

Part I shifts every few minutes from Wraysford's illicit 1910 love affair with the wife of a French business partner to his service in the British army between 1916-18. The two time settings are extremely well-synchronized: The directors and producers did a fine job of making the two stories into one. Part II, though it follows the same general pattern, is a little more of a straightforward, solidified story.

I haven't read Sebastian Faulks's original novel, but I've heard nothing but good things about it. It's probably a hard book to cinematize, but Masterpiece Theater did about the best job possible here.
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very disappointing - read the book instead!
jane_concannon30 January 2012
I read the book Birdsong (the basis for this series) by Sebastian Faulks many years ago and really enjoyed it, particularly the sections about life in the trenches, which I found very gripping and evocative. Perhaps my memory is playing up, but I seemed to remember that this was the main point of the book, not the romance between Stephen and his french girlfriend, which was the main focus of this disappointing adaptation.

I am amazed how the production team managed to turn such a good book about WW1 into such a dull and plodding romantic drama. The dialogue was stilted, and although I am English and therefore used to the various English dialects, I struggled most of the time to understand what was being said so had to turn the volume up higher than normal. The acting was also poor - involving lots of staring mournfully at each other and simpering. I'm not sure if this was the actors' / director's faults or whether it was such a bad script that there was just no dialogue to work with. I've never watched a drama with so many long silences in it (except maybe the Twilight films); I'm sure this wasn't a feature of the book. I found myself getting very frustrated with the slow pace and kept wanting to reach for the FF button on the remote. I also found the casting of several of the characters very odd - especially the normally excellent Matthew Goode and Eddie Redmayne.

The one redeeming feature of the series was that it looked good.

In summary then, one to avoid and read the book instead.
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Book vs. movie ...
kosmasp6 September 2015
Though I haven't read the book yet and I also had no idea this was split into two TV-movies. It came out as one single very long movie on DVD in Germany, so I watched it like that. It did appeal to me, especially acting, though some choices seemed weird. For a TV movie it is surprising I reckon that there is nudity. For regular TV I guess, but then again, we're way past that already.

The structure does seem fitting for a novel and it makes more sense in the book form (or at least seems to). Even without having read it, you can do more in the head of a reader than in a film. Still this seems more than decent enough to stand on its own, especially if the viewer is unaware of its source material.
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Beautifully photographed but dull
TheLittleSongbird29 May 2012
I was expecting much from Birdsong. I had read the book three years ago for my English A Levels course, and found myself utterly transfixed by the poignant and gut-wrenching story. Since then, Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong has become one of my favourite books of all time. This series does have its good parts. It is photographed beautifully, exquisitely even, the scenery is wonderful in the whole part of the story before Stephen goes off to war, I liked the contrast between the lush pre-war scenes and the bleak colour palette of war itself the music is effective in its simplicity and there are two good performances, the scene-stealing Jack Firebrace of Joseph Mawle and the emotionally complex Jeanne of Marie-Josee Croze. Sadly, I never found myself convinced by the story and characters. This is not helped by a script that is largely incoherent, characters that excepting perhaps Jeanne are lifeless cardboard cut-outs(I know they are not likable characters to begin with but still there is a difference between that and the characters having no life at all) and sluggish pacing. I also found Eddie Redmayne and Clemence Posey miscast, Redmayne is handsome certainly but he was also wooden and uncharismatic while Posey has no chemistry with him and looks like twenty years younger than her novelistic counterpart. The story has scenes that are either condensed(naturally considering the time) or almost endlessly stretched out(not so much), but it was the lack of atmosphere and drama that really spoiled Birdsong. The intimate scenes between Stephen and Isabelle weren't that intimate to me as both actors looked in pain during those scenes, and the war scenes due to the poorly rendered battlefields weren't poignant, tense or gut-wrenching enough. Overall, does have some good things such as the beautiful photography, but the pacing and lack of drama made Birdsong rather dull in my opinion, sorry. 5/10 Bethany Cox
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Beautiful, underrated
takethefreedway15 November 2013
I rarely review unless I love a movie and feel something has been unfairly rated due to some anomaly. Here I suspect the anomaly is that it will only be fully felt by people who have known something of this these level of intensity of love and death. Our world has become somewhat numbed to these things. I am lucky and unlucky enough to have had a meeting just like theirs and the story and intensity of it touched me very deeply. It is not just a matter of being open enough for these things to happen, but open enough to recognize their significance. And even in the absence of a war, for such a spiritual heart, as in the Bhagavad Gita, life will always be trench warfare on some level.
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Both book and movie wonderful
spheckma2 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
If you've read the book you may be one of those people who get it set in their mind 'as the book' and can't move beyond it, but the book is one thing and the movie another and if you've the ability to consider the worth of both then I believe you'll find value in both. In this review I deal with the movie as I loved the visuals of all of it from the setting of beautiful scenes with lush costuming and sets were magnificent. The costumes thought out each scene to the Nth degree in that they almost told a story them self. Eddie Redmayne costumes suit the scenes of the love story when the love story needs to have a special feel as do all the most extraordinary dress and skirts and blouses of Clémence Poésy. In addition she had a delicate beauty that was perfect for the role while Marie-Josée Croze was perfect as her not the not so beautiful sister, but never-the-less possessed her own sort of beauty with the need element of strength. The was scene were everything you'd expect of war in WWI in trenches that were literally a few feet apart with all the gore and horror and fear you'd expect.

Also, the costuming there was amazing as it wasn't exact, as it wouldn't have been under the circumstances, but for the most part it was nearly as perfect as I'd want. Now I'd like to take a step back and talk about Eddie Redmayne. I'd not heard of him until I saw the name attached to the actor who would play Marius in the upcoming version of 'Les Mis'so I looked him up, found a movie he was in to watch and came away from seeing it wondering why him in either this story or in Les Mis. Suffice it to say he does not have you classical good looks. BUT, after watching the BBC version of 'Birdsong' he won me over. He is one outstanding actor, with the unbelievable subtle expression he makes using not only his entire face, but just his eyes alone. He was, simply put, beyond belief and will be perfect as Marius, but back to his playing Stephen Wraysford. He play the full range of the character to perfection. I even found myself finding him a beautiful man even though not typically so ... All things considered it may not be a perfect copy of the book, but it stands on its own and that's what counts.
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Frustrating. A wasted opportunity.
aliciadipesto31 January 2012
What a wasted opportunity. That should have been a fantastic 2 part drama. But it so wasn't. I could have spent that 3 hours ironing. Or sleeping. Or staring deeply into my lovers eyes trying to find the words to... to.. to... OH FOR GOODNESS SAKE!

I never got around to reading the book and the trailer looked brilliant. After all that I have to give the post production house who made the trailer 11 out of 10 for editing and sound mixing as it really turned water into wine. What a shame the actual film didn't live up to its promise.

Can't knock the production, the production design, the CGI, any of that. The acting, well I guess they did as well as they could with what was probably only 5-10 pages of script and the rest was just mooning at each other, God it was boring. I wouldn't have minded it as much if the Redmayne and Poesy had any chemistry at all but there was none, it was like watching....well it was like watching 2 actors staring at each other for 3 hours. And that sex scene - even in 2012 post-watershed, I found the sight of oral sex barely moments after their first kiss a bit much. I have no doubt in 1910, Wraysford would have been on the receiving end of a belt round the head if he'd attempted that back then.

No wonder she went off and had a baby and he never knew about it; they barely spoke to each other for the whole show. You can't have a relationship based on smouldering looks. She left him, had a baby in secret and died and the whole time he just looked like he needed the bathroom and was trying to control himself. Yawn.

The timing was unfortunate - if it had been on after Celebrity Masterchef or something banal the UK population might have been more forgiving but being scheduled directly after the The Midwife, full of snappy dialogue, first class acting, brilliant production design, good pacing and dry humour, its faults were even more glaring.

Oh well, looks like Tim Bevan better get back to what he's best at, more Johnny English or some such nonsense.
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Guy25 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
BIRDSONG came with lots of hype and plenty of critical acclaim but is utter tripe. It's a love story with a bisected narrative: in 1910 an innocent Englishman falls in love with the young wife of the owner of the French textiles factory where he works, whilst in 1916 he's become a cold-hearted officer involved in tunnelling operations on the Somme. The big problem is that the Sebastien Faulks novel it's based on is psychological whilst TV is visual. Screenwriter Abi Morgan deals with this by including marathon staring competitions between characters instead of dialogue or action; presumably the characters communicate by telepathy. There are no proper character introductions and precious little development, rendering most of the characters dull enigmas. All this staring also denudes the subplots of space. The dialogue is truly modern; everyone either mumbles or has an impenetrable regional accent, rendering subtitles a must. The lovers leap straight to oral sex (in 1910!) in a Bad Sex Award-winning performance. The protagonist also acts like an ass: drawing his revolver on a subordinate and psychologically tormenting a man caught sleeping on duty. If you mistake a glacial pace, opaque characters and pretty lighting for good TV drama then you'll love this. If not then I'd stay away.
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Glacial and ungripping
badajoz-124 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The book is supposed to be a modern classic - the author has heavily researched the First World War, and it has taken ages to get to the screen. I am reading the novel, but this very slow, trying to be worthy, adaptation did not encourage me to finish it, but I did, and found that most of the book has disappeared - yes, literally hundreds of pages have been jettisoned so that we are left only with the love affair and a half hearted look back at the Western Front. It is an utter disgrace and insult to the author, admittedly of a not very good book, but he has made a very careful, serious and literary attempt to try and illustrate four years of hell that somehow a lot of men survived!! This film, I am afraid, is... awful. The glacial slowness of the Amiens portion (pre war, and Englishman comes to study factory methods but spends all his time ogling the owner's wife)is truly dull. You barely care a hoot for two people, Wraysford (Englishman played by Eddie Redmayne) and his French lover (played by Clemence Poesy - we are all supposed to know her from Harry Potter, which I gratefully missed after two episodes), as they exchange only looks. Sorry director, writer, and actors, but you do not pull it off. It seems only Robert Pattinson (somehow) can emote silently successfully. This production does not. The sex scenes were ludicrous - first up (and poorly done in the book), oral barely before they have kissed,(now realise that the unrestrained sex is meant to mirror people's onward rush into war in 1914, sorry) and, of course, up against the tree, while the kissing is strictly 21 st century - no firm hard straightforward smackeroos here! But, of course, because the story is not told sequentially then the love story just becomes Mills and Boon rather than precursor to war, because the love affair stops as the fever diminishes (too literary by half in the book, but an utter failure by writer of screenplay to use the material properly!) Then we get to the so-called trench scenes on the Somme. Apparently we are supposed to think of Helmand - hot, scorched earth and 20 year olds, but this is the Somme 1916 with a citizen army of 18-35 year olds, and yet they made an incredible effort to get the buttons and uniforms absolutely right!!! Why???!!! And as for the shortage of tunnellers - we see five at most who have built huge underground bunker!!! And the Germans who burst in are in full uniform as clean as on a parade ground! Come on, you really are letting the design team down something awful. And, as for the 35 year old reviewers on National Newspapers - they all have to mention mud - this is the Somme chalk! But like Spielberg in 'War Horse', eventually you have to give in to cliché and a good visual rather than play it straight. The heart of the book - the first day of the Somme - just does not work, because there are too few extras. You are supposed to see thousands mown down, and the world changes forever. Um, a bit of rushing about and a few bodies just gets lost, and I am afraid the writer and director obviously were not interested ( it shows dreadfully), and why they should have been allowed to work on the adaptation is beyond me. No wonder Mr Faulks was only allowed to visit for a very short time!
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A crime against acting
terraplane29 January 2012
To give a flavour of the pace of this turgid production here is an example of the script: When (five seconds of silence) do (five seconds of silence)you (five seconds of silence with staring eyes)have (five seconds of blank faces and silence) to (more silence)leave (the silence between words is boring by now)for ( silence and staring with additional meaningful looks)the (silence punctuated by annoying piano arpeggio stolen from Arvo Paart's Spiegel im Spiegel) front (piano, staring, silence.....etc,) etc....all of which is delivered in a series of mumbles that make Marlon Brando seem like Olivier in Henry the Fifth by comparison. And the acting! Oh, the acting! In short, where is it? Eddie Redmayne goes through the entire 3 hours with nary a hint of emotion. Whether he's in the throes of battle or soft-focus intercourse, his expression remains that of a lobotomised wide-mouth frog. He would make a very good double act with the other non-entity of the moment, Douglas Booth, the pneumatic-lipped drip who gave us a magnificently one-dimensional performance in Great Expectations. A more superficial pair of perfunctory performers I cannot imagine... However, I digress...rather like the author Sebastian Faulkes and the scriptwriter whose name escapes me...fortunately. There seems to be a fad at the present time for all things steeped in ersatz history, Downton Abbey being the most obvious contender, which itself was nothing more than a complete re-hash of Upstairs Downstairs. Perhaps there is a longing for those oh-so-romantic Victorian and Edwardian days when men had moustaches, women were merely decorative and children died of malnutrition and a multitude of diseases. Ah, but the romance of war, let us not forget those glorious days when thousands of men were sent to their very avoidable deaths every day by Generals who cared nothing for the damned Germans and even less for their own soldiers. It was all done with the best intentions, in other words the preservation of their rapidly disappearing lifestyle and fortunes, or to put it another way, the British way of life. And this is just the sort of fallacious hypocrisy that productions such as Downton Abbey and Birdsong seek to exploit and present as historically accurate with their sepia tinted whimsy and risible story lines. It wouldn't be so bad as long as the acting was up to scratch but it isn't. The only saving grace of this production is the photography, which is quite beautiful most of the time. And as a previous reviewer has so accurately written, tortoises and marathons do not an entertainment make.
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Missed opportunity
JDuu29 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
As a long standing fan of the novel I had been eagerly awaiting the release of a theatrical version Birdsong for the best part of 7 years, finally it is here... and I am left feeling massively disappointed.

I appreciate that it is difficult to adapt what could essentially be a 5 hour film into the space of 3 hours, budgetary constraints and the use of artistic licence, so I won't detract on it not being a carbon copy of the book and try to be as fair as possible.

  • Cast: My interpretation of Stephen was of a war hardened, off-beat and troubled young man, which made his character complex and interesting. Here they seem to have cast a Jenson Button look-a-like. I don't seem to remember a description of Stephen with mousey hair and twinkling blue eyes. I find this to be a casting made to appease the female Sunday night drama demographic. Clemece Posey is FAR too young and fair to play Isabelle, I actually thought the actress playing Jeanne was a far better fit. In addition, Rene Azaire was also portrayed as much younger and capable than his pompous, bumbling counterpart in the novel, and I had a hard time accepting him to be the same pushover.

  • Location: The novel heavily emphasises the extent of the mud and decay over no-man's land. Here the battle seems to be taking place in modern day Helmand province, the sandy white shingle is a complete contrast to all I have learned and expected from what a WW1 battlefield might look like. I understand that the scenes were filmed in Hungary due to budgeting but if it looked that arid would it have killed them to have at least sprayed a hosepipe over it?

  • Pyrotechnics/sound effects: These were laughable, I have had bigger fireworks in my back garden than what they were supposedly passing off as shells. During a "bombardment" we see a few small puffs of smoke then, suddenly, a man lying with half his entrails removed. Faulks describes the shelling as an incessant bombardment capable of driving a man mad, yet the men are quite able to hold a normal conversation moments prior to their assault on the Somme.

  • Acting: This brings me to what is the lowest point of the entire piece where Thomas Turgoose's character Tipper exclaims in a tone akin to a primary school child reciting a nativity line "Sir, it sounds as though the air is made of met-al"... The delivery of this line was simply woeful and a poor attempt at trying to build some kind of threat element prior to the assault. Another on of the miners appears to be posthumously blinking towards the end, I can't believe the script supervisors didn't notice this. Much of the dialogue is monotone and flaccidly delivered.

I could go on but overall I found it to be a sterile, atmosphere-less adaptation of a work of fiction so promising I had hoped the BBC would be able to do it justice.
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The BBC drop the ball again
Leofwine_draca6 February 2012
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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A disappointing adaptation
geeforce-794-18721417 September 2013
Having read the book previously I was interested to see how they transformed this complex interwoven drama onto screen. Unfortunately I was underwhelmed. The actor playing Stephan failed to convey Stephan's emotional ambiguity. The actress playing Isabelle I found similarly underwhelming. The use of overly long staring as a technique to build up the sexual tension between the star crossed lovers was irritating in the extreme.

The battle scenes lacked the clawing fear found in masters of the genre, the trenches were too dry, too well constructed. There was never the sense of foreboding before going over the top that I was expecting. Similarly the scenes in the tunnels lacked the feelings of claustrophobia conveyed in the book. As a comparison the film "Das Boot" based on the story of a U-boat crew showed that it is possible to build a sense of paralyzing claustrophobia if you have a good director, well written script and actors with the necessary talent and experience.

Overall a very disappointing effort.
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So the cycle of misery will go on...hooray?
steven-22211 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This movie has fine production values, good actors, moving music...but the love story left me cold. There is zero chemistry between the lovers, and its seems a cheat to make her (otherwise quite desirable) husband impotent.

More to the point...what was the point? After showing us just how miserable WWI was, and how degraded human institutions are (sending young men to die horribly for no good reason), and how pointless love and human relationships are, because life leads inevitably to suffering and death...our transcendent ending comes with the revelation that a child has been born--so hooray, the cycle of misery can just go on and on. This is the standard "uplifting" ending to many a novel and movie, but for me, it just won't cut it any more. The "miracle" of progeny is the exact opposite, no miracle at all but one of the most common things in the world. Two people screwed and created a baby. Big deal.

I respect the integrity and the ambitious nature of this movie--but only up to a point. If you want to bite off a really big theme (human futility), you'll have to take me somewhere else. Making a baby merely plays the hand dealt to us by the Selfish Gene, our only true lord and master. It's not a solution or a resolution to anything, not even a made-up story.
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A very poor work
Jim Lawton9 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I like both romance and war stories. I recall, although it is some time ago now, liking the novel, so it is something of a triumph that I found almost nothing to like about this "glacial","turgid" (to steal other reviewers' words) adaptation.

I found the acting in general to be stilted, only two characters came alive for me, Marie-Josée Croze as Jeanne, and Joseph Mawle as Firebrace, the latter absolutely stealing the show from the leads.

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Wraysford was dire, and where did those awful botox lips come from? Clémence Poésy as Isabelle was decorative but empty. And Oh! the endless, endless staring. Pauses in dramatic dialogue, or as punctuation in scenes of rigour can be very effective. Stopping talking and going blank is just boring. I was watching this on a recording and I don't exaggerate when I say that some of the pauses were so long I could actual fast-forward through them.

Elsewhere the producers have been congratulated for using French actors for the French characters, but unfortunately their English was so perfect that they might as well not have bothered.

The sex scenes were so anachronistic - I mean, we didn't know about oral sex even in the 1960s until someone read Frank Harris's "My Life and Loves".

The scenes in the trenches were marred by the casual way the men treated the officers. in even semi-formal situations (as when entering or leaving the officers dugout) saluting is automatic (but in the British Army only when caps are on) and I don't recall seeing a single one, and no enlisted man would refer to an officer by rank, it's always "Sir", and "Sir" all the time., it's drummed and drummed into you. Actors and directors in war films should have it dinned into them, you cannot say "sir" too often when an enlisted man talks to an officer, or a junior officers speaks to a senior.

The tunneling scenes were also badly realised - some of those tunnels were big enough to drive a horse and cart down, and the obligatory flooding scene , explained as "due to the rising water table", looked more like the effects of the sea or a river breaking in from above. Oh yes, also, when Wraysford sets off the trail of gunpowder in order to free himself from the tunnel, do you not thing he would have put his hands over his ears and turned his back rather than looking down the tunnel straight into the wall of flame. This was, I assume, so we could have the obligatory "tossed in the air/down the tunnel" image.

I think though that the absolute utter failure here is the casting and direction of Redmayne. And that final scene where he crawls out of the hole in the ground and raises his fists to the approaching Germans, before falling into their arms when they tell him that the war is over - what drivel.

The three stars I've awarded are for Joseph Mawle and Marie-Josée Croze.
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What a disappointment
alda-delicado2 March 2012
A long time ago i read this book and I was totally immersed in it. Since then I have tried to read all of Sebastian Faulks novels and so far I enjoyed all of them although this one remained my favorite. I also totally enjoy war time stories. I had huge expectations about this series and when i got hold of it I just could't resist watching it right away. Unforntunatelly after the first half hour I was totally bored. The acting wasn't too good, the story dragged for ages when everybody knew what was going on for a looooong time. I contemplated not watching the second half but I decided to give it a try and was even more disappointed by it. I read the novel a long time ago and as such I didn't really remember the end so I was expecting to find some point in the end, but unfortunately I must say there was none...
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Ruined by a glacially slow romance and too much cutting from one scene to another
emuir-126 August 2014
Fortunately one can apply the fast forward button when watching a DVD. I struggled through part one, then decided to hit the fast forward every time the action moved from the trench warfare to the sappy romance complete with background piano. If this had been a Swedish film it could not have been slower. It would have been better to focus on the futility and horrors of WWI and scrap the romance, or to confine the romance to part one, and WWI to part 2 with no flashbacks. Perhaps if the director had cut the long pauses between Stephen and Isabelle it might have helped. When the ubiquitous weepy soap opera ending was revealed, I groaned.

By contrast, the WWI story was spellbinding, particularly the character of Jack Firebrace. If the tedious romance bogged it down, the flitting back and forth from 1910 Amiens to WWI was overdone. Save it for MTV. Too much, too often, and too fast.
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Boring, Bird Yawn
K M5 February 2012
I really tried to like this series. I guess I am a bit repulsed by the main character, well, basically Eddie Redmayne. He is a horrible actor and not attractive at all. I assume his method is, where there is no acting ability, just give long blank stares. He kisses like a frog going after a bug, ZAP! Absolutely no kissing technique at all.

The female lead also was just blah.

The story was laid out so badly, you don't know how one character got to the place they were in a relationship, and there was no build-up whatsoever. Scenes jumped back and forth and there was no logical sequence of events.

I have no idea what the plot was to this story, it just seemed like a bunch of events were thrown together as if blindfolded, throwing each scene on a dart board and letting it stick where it landed.

Great cinematography, beautiful costume designs and landscapes, but I think the director surely must have been asleep and the actors took their direction from that. They nearly put me to sleep, too. The screenwriter was obviously on a deadline.

They also must have all been on some medication that gave them dry mouth, because you could hear every smack as they would open their mouths and slurp all over each other and you could hear every gulp as they drank. It was disgusting. I have not been so revolted by a show that I can remember right now, but I hope Eddie Redmayne's publicist will quit pushing him into every TV part. I am getting so sick of seeing him in every new show that comes on the screen. Overall, he was the worst part of this series.

Not sure if links show up, but if so, this is a good description in this trailer for the movie:

if not, do a search on for "Birdsong trailer 'I pose, therefore I am'" It's not my link, but it is apropos.
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Birdsong is an excellent treatment of WWI and a young man coming of age.
Camargue2 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Birdsong provided realistic insight into the horror (and tedium) of WWI; much less "glamorous" than WWII, but clearly equal in the scale of human suffering. Add to that the frustration of a young man coming of age and there is little raw emotion left.

Eddie Redmayne IS Stephen Wraysford! A marvelous WWI officer; young, idealistic, and devoted to his men, he understood what they were going through, the hopelessness of war, and that, in the final analysis, all that matters is loving and touching! Years of suffering had infused Stephen with wisdom beyond his years.

His time as a young lover occupied an exaggerated place in his life because he was completely enamored with Isabelle, yet had such a short time with her! He was familiar with paid sex with prostitutes, but his heart belonged to Isabelle. Sadly, he did not understand that a woman who was weak enough to succumb to an affair was not a good candidate for depth of commitment. She was Stephen's entire "world," but her lack of self-esteem prevented her from understanding that her worth to him was enormous.

The bunker scenes with Joseph Mawle (Firebrace) and Richard Madden (Weir) and Eddie Redmayne are absolute magic. It is easy to see why they are rated as up and coming stars! They hit just the right notes as young men who were stuck in the war effort and were trying to do the best they could, while wanting it to be over and to just "go home." Oddly, Stephen could actually "go home" when he had leave since he had lived close to this battle area of France before the war.

Stephen Wraysford was irreparably changed by the war and was forced to compromise his remaining years. His physical needs were met, but his emotional needs were never addressed; they could not be.

If the war had not happened, one can imagine a long and satisfactory (if more shallow) life for Stephen Wraysford, involved in the manufacture of fabric, and of finding love, and if his future was to be in France or back in England. But, the war did happen, and those four years of horror continued to run roughshod over the remainder of his days.
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