On reflection, although I enjoyed the first instalment of Birdsong, I did find that it was very heavy on moody silences, and wistful glances into the distance. Historically, it seemed accurate, and compared to other adaptations, it seemed pretty faithful to the book.
I felt that the battle scenes were very well handled. In all fairness, I think we are setting our stalls out too much to expect battle scenes to be 100% accurate – how can they be? no one actually dies in a war film. I personally feel that the best we can hope for is that battle scenes are thoughtful and respectful to history, and that was what was achieved here. I was very moved especially by the ‘big push’ on the Somme, in particular the scene where the Sergeant-Major is taking a roll call of endless absent names. The final tunnel scene really did justice to the story, and must have taken quite some work in terms of the set and props.
One aspect where I felt that the TV dramtisation really let itself down, was the manner in which the screenwriters, for whatever reason, ommitted any reference to the fact that the events of the book are actually seen through the eyes of a descendant, researching in the 1970′s. This gave the story added longitudinal meaning, that was perhaps absent on screen. Also, maybe I missed it, but there was no reference in either part as to where the title of the book originates from.
There were also a few aspects of the plot that I felt were light – little explanation of why Isabelle left Stephen, and why Stephen was in France in the first place. But then again, I guess translating such a monumental book into three hours of TV was always going to be a challenge. It’s always the same with TV adaptations – they’re never going to hit every note that the book does, but as long as they’re faithful and in keeping, then you have to give credit where credit is due.
What with the phenomenal success of War Horse, and the impending Great War Centenary in 2014, we are probably well into a period of renaissance of interest in the events of 1914-1918. It’s quite an exciting time to be a modern military historian.
- Thoughts on the Birdsong BBC TV Series (theedexperience.wordpress.com)
- Birdsong: part two, BBC One, review (telegraph.co.uk)
- TV review: Birdsong; Earthflight (guardian.co.uk)
- Baptism & Birdsong (simonmarsh.org)
- Birdsong’s fighting for awards victory already (mirror.co.uk)
- Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks (mhbd.blogspot.com)
- Rewind TV: Birdsong; We’ll Take Manhattan; Call the Midwife; The Real Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines; Jonathan Meades on France – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Never-before-seen images of ‘Birdsong’ tunnels dug by British pit workers to undermine the German lines in First World War (dailymail.co.uk)