Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Charlotte Skeoch

GET UPDATES FROM Charlotte Skeoch
 

BBC One's Birdsong - A Preview

Posted: 21/01/2012 00:00

If Abi Morgan isn't sat in a doctor's surgery with multiple strain disorder in her typing fingers in 2012 I will eat a script. With two award-winning films (Shame and The Iron Lady) and BBC series The Hour already under her belt, you'd have thought Morgan would be more than happy to kick back and bask in the glory of her media accolades.

But, chained to the keyboard once more- and surely giving up all semblance of a personal life as a result- Ms Morgan has instead churned out yet another rather lovely script for the BBC's adaptation of Sebastian Faulks' novel Birdsong.

For those of you unfamiliar with one of the most-read novels of our time (shame on you! But at least your lackadaisical brain can ingest it on telly in your PJs now...) Birdsong is the mournful tale of Stephan Wraysford (Eddie Redmayne), and his ill-fated affair with the tantalisingly complex French beauty Isabelle Azaire (Clemence Poesy) in idyllic pre-war Amiens.

Spliced between these hazy sun-drenched scenes of sex and scandal is the rather less tranquil account of Wraysford's struggle through the Somme; a filthy, desperate, and doomed toil punctuated by lessons in morality and touching camaraderie. Morgan wisely decides to eliminate Faulks' third string of narrative, which although a pleasure to read, would have been an unnecessary addition, and pushed the run time from trying to impossible. But all in all, it's a maelstrom of emotional manipulation, a story that will tug every tendon of your helpless heart, and the BBC have done it wonderful justice.

Previous attempts to dramatise Faulk's well-loved tale have met a disappointing end: Trevor Nunn's stage adaptation had an embarrassingly short run in the West End before being hauled from the stage completely, and whispers of a film adaptation never amounted to much, so Philip Martin's brave decision to take the directorial helm will, if successful, be the only survivor of Birdsong's dramatic follies.

The two-part series has been shot in Hungary to save production costs, but the surroundings are every bit as charmingly bucolic as you would imagine: draped in tendrils of willow and swathed in pastoral greenery, the Azaire's grandiose abode is the perfect contraposition to the ravages of the Somme.

But although trench life in Birdsong has a mucky exterior, there was a certain romance about it that reeked of the BBC's clean-cut adaptation of Pride and Prejudice: a little too beautiful to be accurate. It would have been nice to see these two storylines interweaved with more creativity however- when two such highly contrasting stories are knitted together with real skill, the poignancy and stark opposition of each edit can be disturbingly arresting, and I feel this production missed a golden opportunity to hammer home Wraysford's gritty departure from upper-class comfort.

Redmayne is a joy to watch: his face conveys boyish vulnerability, while his gravelly voice demands respect- a wryly clever piece of casting, especially considering his up-and-coming status in the wake of award-touted My Week With Marilyn. Not to mention the sight of Redmayne in a polished brogue and linen suit at the foot of a transcendently beautiful lake is enough to send any woman's heart in to a flap of epic proportions. Coupled with the hauntingly beautiful, and technically brilliant Poesy (of In Bruges and Harry Potter fame) the stunning sexual tension throughout the initial scenes is tighter than a bungee rope attached to John Prescott. With excellent cameos from Thomas Turgoose and Joseph Mawle, the cast are close to flawless.

It's high time Birdsong got the dramatic recognition it deserves, and a TV slot is the ideal medium: the two 90 minute episodes give plenty of time for in depth exploration of a story that needs time and attention.

It is wonderful to see Faulks' dual storylines in such a visceral comparison, which- although wonderfully described in the novel- provides a whole new level of stark understanding. If you can see past the chintz, the china and the perfectly daubed-on dirt, Birdsong is a highly commendable drama... just make sure the tissue box/a shoulder partial to snot is in close proximity.

Birdsong is on BBC1 at 9PM, 22 January

 

Follow Charlotte Skeoch on Twitter: www.twitter.com/charlieskeoch