Thursday, February 25, 2016

CRACKER? Birdsong (2012)

                “Birdsong” is based on the novel by Sebastian Faulks.   It was set in WWI and is a love story.  It was first put on as a play and in 2012 the BBC made a TV miniseries out of it. It appeared on PBS Masterpiece.  The director was Philip Martin.  The movie differs from the book in several aspects, most significantly in the fact that it omits the section set in the 1970s.

                The movie is told in flashback.  Stephen Wraysford (Eddie Redmayne) is a British officer on the Western Front.  His men have the unique job of guarding tunnelers who are mining the German front lines. This is a dangerous job that involves flooding below the ground and German infiltration. He flashes back to his ill-fated affair before the war with the wife of his boss. Before the affair falls apart, Stephen suffers the deaths of two of his men.  At one point, he is ordered to go down in the tunnel and gets wounded in a firefight when the Germans break through the wall.  This is inter-cut with his consummation of the affair.  That romantic moment ends with a “what have we just done?” moment.  Although Stephen is down on the war and down on going down into a tunnel, he wants to return to the front from his hospital bed.  “This isn’t a war, it’s an exercise in how much men can be degraded”.  But can I please get back to it?  How upper class British of him.

follow this upper class twit into no man's land
                The movie continues to bounce between the war and the romance.  The romance is rockier than the war.  Isabelle (Clemence Poesy) suddenly breaks up with him and does not give him a reason.  When we later find out what the reason was, it’s ridiculous.  So are a lot of the plot developments in the movie.  There is the clicheish scene where Stephen disagrees with a general’s optimistic prediction of the upcoming assault.  The bombardment will do the trick – the wire will be cut and the dugouts will be obliterated.  The mines will open up a hole that the men will stroll through.  Oh, you British generals.  The attack is decidedly macro and follows Stephen like the camera followed Dax in “Paths of Glory”.  Much of what happens is awkward, narrative-wise.  The movie then jumps two years to the end of the war.  There is a big revelation concerning the end of the affair.  Stephen is still in the mining business although the war is literally on it lasts legs.  If you are going to spend months digging a mine and stuffing it with explosives, you want your money’s worth regardless of the fact that it will have no effect on the outcome.

One of these guys looks like a soldier and
the other is Eddie Redmayne

                This movie was a disappointment for me.  WWI does lend itself to quality plays, but there have also been some real duds like “The Trench”.  But I have to admit that my opinion of the movie was colored by my distaste for the lead actor.  Redmayne has gone on to a spectacular career, but I still don’t like looking at his face.  It is just creepy to me.  I don’t dispute he has become a competent actor, but in this movie he is blah.  It does not help that this milquetoast with the femme face manages to bed a hot mom.  Unrealistic much?  On the plus side, Clemence Poesy is hot.  What would have been realistic is if she had broken up with him when she finally got a close look at who she had left her husband and kids for.  The rest of the cast is BBC appropriate.  Although the plot has several head-scratching developments, the flashback format does work.  It is rare for me to long for flashbacks away from the war, this movie is an exception because the war scenes are so unrealistic.  If you want to see a movie highlighting British tunneling efforts, watch the vastly superior “Beneath Hill 49”.

GRADE  =  C-  

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