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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. It's occasional sex, I never felt this was a grand love story that would affect them in any substantial way. For the story's sake, though, we must believe it. The wartime sequences are more rewarding, as Redmayne stares down death and turns from an aloof outsider to heroic leader.

My principle reservations, I suppose, stem from the piece's screenplay more than anything. The early scenes faced uneven pacing and are simply chock full of meaningful looks with little dialogue. Poesy, in particular, is a real cipher who never gets fully fleshed out as a real person. But that's it in a nutshell. Redmayne is so front and center, we don't really get to know anyone else beyond surface presentation. His squad in the wartime segment are appealing, but largely unexplored as well. "Birdsong" had the potential to be an absolutely devastating tear-jerker. I wanted it at ANY time to profoundly move me. The subject matter should have and could have. But I was so detached from everyone in the cast, I ended up admiring this production more than loving it. And I really wanted to love it. Maybe that's why the detractors to this adaptation were so harsh, it keeps you at a distance throughout. Still, there is enough good to make this a recommendation for the right audience. About 3 1/2 stars, for me. KGHarris, 4/12.
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on May 15, 2012
All i can say is wow! PBS has really became a great channel! this show/movie was so good! i watched it at least a dozen times already!! the cast and acting was superb! PBS spared no expense filing Birdsong, it is blockbuster stuff!
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on April 23, 2012
This WWI movie, with lush flashbacks to pre-war France, is alternately beautiful and horrifying. The trenches in the France in 1916 are ghastly. Intermingled are haunting and evocative images of a romance from before the war. Acting is excellent. Beautifully crafted movie.
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on January 22, 2013
A very enjoyable heartwrenching tale. Well acted, beautiful scenery, and realistic re-enactment of the British World war 1 fighting against the Germans in France. But not for the faint hearted. Yes, I would recommend it to someone.
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on September 28, 2013
Sebastian Faulks' novel is highly regarded. I've not read it, but I'll take people's word that it's good. Abi Morgan is a talented screenwriter whose work I've enjoyed -- most recently, the series "The Hour" and the film "Shame". So I should've liked "Birdsong". But for whatever reason, the potential in this project just didn't gel into anything particularly great. Perhaps the series needed to be longer: the love story feels rushed; Eddie Redmayne's compatriots in the trenches just seem like quick sketches; and then it's over. Well, it's not over before we're given the moral of story, delivered by a guy tragically dying in the trenches. "It's all we're good for," the guy croakingly soothsays to Redmayne, while the strings weep in the background. "To love and be loved." (Hopefully this scene is not in the novel.)

But before we get to that pearl of wisdom, we must endure a lot of staring into the middle distance, mostly from Redmayne as he reminiscences about his lost love while in the trenches. The director was rather cruel to Redmayne, I should think. The guy is asked to look tragic throughout the whole picture, even in the pre-war scenes. He's asked to break down and sob a few times. Actors hate that, by the way. Worst of all, he's asked to whisper. A lot. Almost his entire dialogue is whispered. If you don't have a decent home theater system with Dolby, you are well advised to turn on the Closed Captioning, unless you enjoy alternating your volume up and down between whispering and bombshells. I think some directors confuse whispered dialogue with Important Dialogue.

The heart of the thing is the love story, but, as I said earlier, the story is too rushed for us to start really rooting for the lovers to come together. There is some nice intensity between them as they steal glances at each other and play some footsie on a rowboat (for once, all the staring works to a purpose), but it's just not enough. The lady is married to an impotent man, conveniently enough, and I think she's supposed to be about 10 or so years older than Redmayne. But Clemence Poesy appears to be the same age as Redmayne, so it's strange when she calls him "my boy", and it's even stranger when the 16-year-old daughter of the husband's first marriage calls Poesy "maman". Poesy seems like a fine actor, but this is a Casting Fail.

As for the rest of it: there's a Gallipoli-like futile charge against the Germans that fails because of incompetent planning by the military brass, but really, haven't we seen all this before? In fact, we've seen it in "Gallipoli", a superior movie directed by Peter Weir. I couldn't connect with the soldiers' mission, and I couldn't connect with them. One of them wears sweaters, sent from his mother back in England, over his army issue. Couldn't tell you anything else about him, though. Perhaps Abi Morgan needed to spend more time on them. Perhaps the producers needed a bigger budget to expand the series.

Or, and here's a thought, maybe the original novel the series is based on isn't all that good to begin with, contrary to received opinion. All that I learned from "Birdsong" is that War, and French Ladies, are Hell. Tell me something I don't know! 2 out of 5.
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on June 29, 2012
this movie (mini series) is so good. i rented it by chance and boy i am glad i did! i really don't even like love story's, but this is so much more than your same old same old. it is the type of movie to where you become emotionally invested in each character. its a love/war/drama story. i will watch again...
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on September 27, 2012
This has to be one of the best love stories I have EVER seen. May not have the standard ending but what a ride getting there. Puts you into a time and place that our generation (thankfully) will never have to live through. Though it truly makes you appreciate the struggles that those who went before us made, for us. I can not recommend this movie/series more highly. This one is good for men and women alike as you have love and war both portrayed beautifully well.
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on January 10, 2014
I am, for some unknown reasons, drawn to war films. Most big budget movies have a tendency to exploit certain parts of audience's emotion, and often try to glorify an aspect of the war of the participants. This movie was not about heroism, nor politics. Just how ordinary, natural humanness gets trumpled by the war machine and how uman heart still keeps on hoping, living and loving, I think those are the ingredients that make this movie great. For some reasons, acting was NOT that great, but the power of the story itself moved the movie forward. PBS movies are kind of odd in comparison with big studio productions and being an American audience, they create some unusual contrast with our normative expectation about a war film. But the credit of the movie is that it succeeded in depicting horror, anxiety, recklessness, commodity-like treatment of human lives, amidst greatest of uncertainty the touching effort of simple soldiers to stay human, and it did so with minimum of special effects.
I have not read the book, and some areas of the movie seemed incomplete or discontinuous or lacking flow/transitions. Director and the scriptwriter should have done a better job. I plan to read the book. Anyway, give it a go. I particularly liked the character of the main tunnel digger. For some reasons, to me, he seemed to be the protagonist, only I had to wait till the end of the movie to find out.
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on January 17, 2013
I just finished this movie and all I can say is WOW! Easily the best love story I've seen in a long time. The performance that Eddie Redmayne gives is amazing and heartbreaking. I love period movies and this is also a very well done. The locations, art direction and costume design had me feeling as if I was getting a glimpse of the period of the 1910's into World War I. The misery those brave men experienced in the trenches in palpable through this story. Highly recommended!!.
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on January 5, 2014
Generally speaking, the acting favored averagely. However, the storyline lacked in transitioning between the past and present. Some scenes seemed to be repetitive. As much I like the main actor, Eddie Redmayne, I had trouble finding his character engaging enough to watch. His performance in his later work les miserables showcases his true talents far better.
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