The second episode of Birdsong just aired on PBS Masterpiece Classic. If you missed the series, you can watch both episodes online at this link through May 29th. I urge you to watch it. This is not a review of the show, simply my reaction to it, as I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot.
Eddie Redmayne is perfect as Stephen Wraysford. He effectively portrays Stephen as a boyish man when he meets Isabelle (Clemency Poesy), and grows up in front of our eyes as he experiences heartbreak and the horrors of war. The final scene had me reaching for yet another hanky.
Clemency Poesy is simply splendid in the part of the unhappy wife who turns to Stephen for love and comfort, and so was Joseph Mawle as Jack Firebrace.
I have read a number of accounts of the Somme offensive, all of them horrifying. This film does justice to the young men who lost their lives in what can only be described as a scene from hell. At first I wasn’t sure that I would like the frequent cutting back and forth from the battle scenes to Stephen’s memories of his love affair with Isabelle at Amiens, when the countryside looked beautiful and pristine, but now I think the director and writer made the right choice.
Had we watched the story unfold chronologically, the unrelentingly harsh scenes in the trenches and on the battlefields would have worn me down. Just when the story became too emotionally raw for me to take in, the scene would shift to a softer, more romantic time, when Stephen’s life was starting out and he was filled with hope and ambition. There were perhaps a few missteps when the scene would cut away abruptly, but overall I began to see and look forward to the visual and emotional rhythms that this technique created. Life in the trenches was gray and dull and beige. Life with Isabelle was filled with sunshine, lush interiors, birdsong, and green leafy trees.
Eddie Redmayne portrayed Angel Clare in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. His face, with its unique bone structure, is as sensitive as James Dean’s. Coming off his acting stints in My Week With Marilyn, Pillars of the Earth, and his current role as Marius Pontmercy in Les Miserables, I have no doubt we will see him in many more films in the future.
As an aside, I urge those of you who enjoy these great PBS offerings to support your local PBS stations now that their funding has been greatly reduced. I was so sad to hear that the NEA sharply cut its funding for PBS. If you enjoy Masterpiece Classic and Masterpiece Mystery, and all the great arts specials, then we must individually step up to the plate and support PBS. Thank you for reading my rant. (And, no, I was not paid to make it! :))