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Set before and during the great war, Birdsong captures the drama of that era on both a national and a personal scale. It is the story of Stephen, a young Englishman, who arrives in Amiens in 1910. His life goes through a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented experiences of the war itself.
Busy screenwriter Abi Morgan (The Hour, The Iron Lady) adapts Sebastian Faulks's 1993 bestseller for this introspective Masterpiece Classic two-parter, which reflects on love and war in equal measure. Costume-drama veteran Eddie Redmayne (The Pillars of the Earth) plays Stephen Wraysford, a British textile man based in Amiens in 1910 (before his career skyrocketed, Michael Fassbender was attached to the role). While staying with Isabelle (Clémence Poésy, In Bruges) and her controlling husband, Stephen falls in love with his hostess, but her marriage and stepchildren stand in the way. The story continues to proceed along two tracks: Stephen's time with Isabelle and her sympathetic sister, Jeanne (Marie-Josée Croze), and his time as an imperiled lieutenant in the trenches of World War I, where he finds a friend in the selfless Jack (Joseph Mawle) and a foe in the callous Captain Gray (Matthew Goode) as memories of Amiens spur him on. If the peacetime scenes are light and leisurely--sometimes too leisurely--the wartime scenes are dark and tense as Stephen and his men crawl through tunnels, setting off explosions. Flashbacks reveal that Isabelle eventually returned his affection, except the course of their relationship did not run smoothly. By the end, he's lost most of the things he once desired, but an alternative path lies ahead. In this sense, Birdsong bears some comparison with Atonement and Downton Abbey, though the downbeat nature of the material won't be to all tastes. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
This classic was a wonderful creation depicting the era it represented. Fabulously costumed and superb acting. Read morePublished on April 11 2013 by E. Ferrer
Yes, I know Mitt Romney couldn't resist taking a fun-loving swipe at PBS and its mascot Big Bird at last week's presidential debate. Read morePublished on Oct. 11 2012 by Ian Gordon Malcomson