Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
I have been pretty much absorbed in watching almost every PBS Masterpiece Classic I can get my hands on, while waiting for the return of Downton Abbey this coming winter. The two part mini-series, Birdsong, based on the sprawling epic novel by Sebastian Faulks, covers pretty much the same time period, but with a lot more style than substance.
The current storyline is set in 1916, where Stephen Wraysford (Eddie Redmayne) is serving as an officer in the trenches in Northern France during World War I. Interspersed between the battlefield sequences is the story of his passionate affair with a young French woman Isabelle Aziare (Clemence Poesy), whose family hosted him during his travels to nearby Amiens, France in 1910. Trapped in a loveless, unhappy marriage, the sensitive and fragile, Isabelle finds herself easily seduced by Wraysford's seductive, boyish, charm. Unfortunately, their passionate love affair ends tragically, and Wrayford is left with nothing but haunting memories of their brief romance, as he deals with the horrors of war on the front lines.
Fearing that Wrayford has been killed in battle, Tunneler Jack Firebrace (Joseph Mawle) searches among the massive battlefield for his body, only to find him semi-conscious, but still alive. Often seen by those serving with him as cold and detached, Firebrace is the one man who is able to see the pain behind Wrayford's tough facade, and offers a bit of solace by sharing his own lessons on love and loss.
Screenwriter Abi Morgan (The Hours) does an excellent job in condensing Faulks' sprawling, epic love story into a 2-part, 165 minute mini-series, although the second part, which focuses a bit more on the battle in the trenches than passionate romance, seems to drag on endlessly. Likewise, Director Philip Martin, very skillfully contrasts the bleak horrors of warfare with the blissfully idyllic French countryside, during the romantic scenes. Unfortunately, the romantic subplot is a bit weakly developed, consisting of little more than longing glances, and a few stolen moments of intimacy, with very substance and character development.
While there is a good bit of romantic chemistry between the romantic leads, Redmayne and Poesy, they are not given a lot to work with other than their physical presence. Joseph Mawle delivers a strong supporting performance as Wraysford's wartime confidante. The strength of the series is in the sumptuous period accents, featuring elegants sets and costumes, while capturing the pastoral beauty of the French countryside juxtaposed against the horrific battlefield scenes.
The Blu-ray version features a near flawless transfer with some excellent special features including a featurette on the love story, a behind-the-scenes feature, and a segment on the war story. The sound quality is also first rate, featuring Dolby Digital 5.1 sorroundsound.
Overall, Birdsong, is a beautifully filmed, but ultimately disappointing love story. There is simply not enough depth and character development to result in a truly moving, epic, war-time romance. It is merely a mildly interesting, and painfully lengthy story of Wraysford's attempts to reconcile both the bleakness and bliss of his troubled past, with the uncertainty of the future. It is also further proof that there is no substitute for Downton Abbey, despite an impressive collection of PBS Masterpiece Classics.
Many thanks to Christal for promptly adding this to the database
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older