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Birdsong: Masterpiece Classic

4 out of 5 stars 81 customer reviews

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(Apr 24, 2012)
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$14.96 & FREE Shipping on orders over $35. Details Only 16 left in stock (more on the way). Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available.

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Eddie Redmayne, Clémence Poésy
  • Directors: Philip Martin
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Dolby, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: PBS (DIRECT)
  • DVD Release Date: April 24, 2012
  • Run Time: 165 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0077PBPJ6
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,068 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
I watched the first half of this two part series on television on Sunday night in HD (it was beautiful) and the second half after I rented the dvd. The first part is now available through 5/22 on the PBS website.
I also watched all 3 short extra feature documentaries.
This is a wonderful film, however it should be noted that there are several fairly graphic war scenes and several scenes with sexuality.

The three short documentary featurettes are also worth watching. One addresses the love story, one addresses the war story and the third featurette discusses the behind the scenes filming. The movie was filmed in part in Budapest, Hungary. The actors, director, producer and costume designer all speak warmly and intensely of their involvement in the production.

This film is a not-to-be-missed Masterpiece theatre two-part series. If you have read the book, you will find some differences. I won't go into detail, since I have not read the book as of yet (I have skimmed through it), but one major difference is that the 1970's part of the novel is not included in the film. That is probably no great loss, since many readers felt that this part of the book was not necessary.

Clemence Poesy (Isabelle Azaire) is stunning and Eddie Redmayne (Stephen) is also captivating. The juxtaposition of a love story and the historically realistic gut-wrenching story of the loyalty and comraderie among soldiers in the tunnels of France in WWI makes for a very solid plot.

The second half of this series will be presented on many PBS Stations on Sunday evening, April 29th. It's well worth a look!

I will add more to this review at a later date.
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Format: Blu-ray
Sebastian Faulks' beloved WWII novel "Birdsong" makes a handsome two-part presentation as a part of Masterpiece Classics. Fans of the book, especially with the U. K. premiere, expressed a fair amount of disappointment in the liberties taken by Abi Morgan (The Hours, which coincidentally was also much more acclaimed on its U.S. debut than it had been in Britain). Having read the source material many years ago, I think this is an earnest adaptation. I don't get too caught up with the similarities and the divergences, however, the work must stand independently as a film. The harshest criticisms that I have read seem a bit unwarranted, but the glowing accolades miss the mark as well. This well-meaning and gorgeously produced film experiences some of the same problems that many adaptations of a literary success have faced. It's hard to bring the subtle nuance and introspection of fine prose to the screen without it seeming a tad disconnected.

Eddie Redmayne plays the title character (this casting upset some, but Redmayne is quite good even if not the perfect "book" Stephen of your imagination). His story is told between two juxtaposed stories: one supposedly recounting the love story of his life, one his days in the trenches during the Great War. As he remembers his idyllic true love, however, it seems a little less successful than I would have liked. A pre-war Redmayne meets a lovely French woman (Clemence Poesy) when he is working with her husband. After a few chaste exchanges, suddenly they are deeply in love with no regard for her circumstances. The only cue that this is a grand romance is Redmayne's moony expression when no one is looking but the screenplay never builds much romance or even friendship between the two.
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2 Comments 28 of 31 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: DVD
England is at war, and Stephen Wraysford (Eddie Redmayne) is on the front lines. In command of a group of enterprising young men digging tunnels in order to get nearer foreign forces, Stephen spends most of his time above ground... until a superior officer (Matthew Goode) tells him to take to the tunnels. His timing could not be worse. Gunfire penetrates the underground shaft, leaving him badly wounded...

But conscious to remember a much happier time... when he was employed at a textile factory in France. His employer is the wealthy, older René Azaire but it is his lovely young wife Isabelle (Clémence Poésy) who most attracts Stephen's attention. Quiet and self-contained, she can often be heard weeping at night. Her stepdaughter is not much younger than she is, and is romantically interested in Stephen... but he has eyes only for the beautiful young woman who suffers so much in silence. As their affair unfolds and carries them both into desperate times, the audience travels back and forth between earlier simplicity and later turmoil during wartime. Many films employ this tactic but few accomplish it with as gentle of grace as Birdsong.

Though I have not read the book, I understand that certain things, including the style of the narrative, have been changed. Fans debate heatedly over whether or not the cast is appropriate... I found them a lovely couple to watch with natural chemistry that sparks through lingering glances more than passionate love scenes. One could argue that some of these glances are too long, that eyes meeting over dinner or on the river with music dramatically swelling in the background can at times be a bit dull... and yes, it is true that it prolongs things considerably. The photography is glorious and the costuming exquisite.
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11 Comments 42 of 51 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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