This week at BAFTA HQ, CineVue was treated to a screening of the first episode of the forthcoming BBC One TV adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong, starring Eddie Redmayne – who recently took the lead in 2011’s My Week with Marilyn – and Clémence Poésy, who is most recognisable for her role as Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter series.
With talented and popular screenwriter Abi Morgan – responsible for 2011’s Shame and The Iron Lady – at the helm, Birdsong has already gained a lot of critical attention. It’s a remarkable adaptation by any standards, lavishly produced and on a level that competes in quality with HBO’s ever-popular series Boardwalk Empire.
Faulks’ book was released in 1998 and was a massive success critically and publicly. In the BBC One series Redmayne plays Stephen Wraysford whose story is traced over two timelines – a romance set in 1910 and his involvement in The First World War during 1916. Morgan has changed the interaction of these timelines to be more appropriate to the medium – her treatment of the text is sensitive whilst creating a TV show that is very much its own.
The sets are quite simply incredible. Expansive shots over No Man’s Land contrast with the claustrophobic interiors of WWI trench tunnels in a manner that is simply breathtaking. The treatment of war is appropriately harrowing, yet is in complete contrast to the passionate and melancholic love story that focuses on the sexual liberation of Isabelle (Posey) from her tyrannical husband, in favour of Stephen (Redmayne). Director Philip Martin has carefully considered the balance of stories and has successfully created a show that is both gripping and moving, yet importantly never bows down to sentiment or cliché.
Whilst the production values are exquisite, it is the excellent performances from Redmayne and Posey that make this an incredibly engrossing drama. The supporting cast is equally of strong, particular the powerful performance from Joseph Mawle, who last year appeared as Benjen Stark in HBO’s Game of Thrones.
The BBC have clearly excelled themselves with Birdsong, the kind of high quality production that the Beeb were once renowned for.
Birdsong will air on 22 January, 2012 on BBC One.