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Birdsong Review: 'The Somme Looked Like A Greek Holiday Island'

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Joseph Mawle and Eddie Redmayne star in 'Birdsong'
Joseph Mawle and Eddie Redmayne star in 'Birdsong'

Last week saw Stephen Wraysford's life divided into present and past, the horror of the trenches and the romance of an illicit affair with married Isabelle.

The second, concluding episode of Birdsong found Wraysford, recovering from terrible injury, but eschewing the offer of a desk job in favour of a return to Amiens, where he lost his heart before the war.

Everyone looked strangely unmarked by trench warfare, with the skin of actors Eddie Redmayne and Matthew Goode suspiciously polished in the sun-dappled cloisters. Redmayne is a fine actor, but at this point looked too young and fresh-faced for the real horror of his character to be conveyed - with insufficient difference to him physically between his times of happiness and anguish.

His, and everyone else's cheeks, just looked too apple-kissed considering their circumstances. At times, this whole section looked more like an ad for a holiday to a Greek island than an exploration of one of the most gruesome chapters in human history.

Meanwhile, back in pre-war rural idyllic greenery, Wraysford and Isabelle, having successfully escaped her husband, were now living together, but still throwing long, mournful looks at each other. The sunlight pouring through the windows made their rustic kitchen something straight out of a Vermeer painting, but it seemed the charm of such surroundings didn't prevent conflict over family, children, all the usual... I know it's wrong, but I even found myself wanting him to run off with the sister, if only it would stop all the staring - at least these two actually spoke to each other. Harry Hill's going to have a field day with all those lingering looks.

However, when Wraysford and Isabelle were reunited during the war and he accosted her for her abandonment before collapsing into the arms of a prostitute, Redmayne finally grew into the part, and his misery was moving and contagious from there on in - all the way to the devastation of the Somme, the disintegration of the morale in his camp, and Wraysford's increasing bitterness and isolation.

Despite all the sunlight, passion and lost love of his affair with Isabelle, and his eventual discovery of his daughter, it was his soldier Firebrace who became the truly moving agent of the piece. Firebrace had already saved Wraysford's life in the previous episode, and now we saw him silently grieve as he read the letter reporting his son's death. Later his drunken merriment turned to tears, but he continued to prove that comradeship could break down class barriers.

Then finally, he lay dying with grace and reminded Wraysford that "there is nothing more sir, than to love and be loved". Here, and not in the lingering looks of a filter-photographed, long-ago romance, were the real treasures of Birdsong to be found.

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