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Length: 2 episodes (84 minutes and 81 minutes)
Age Appropriateness Rating: The age appropriateness of this television miniseries is up to parental discretion. The aired British cut of the film features female frontal nudity and graphic (for television) sex scenes. The battle scenes are quite violent, with plenty of blood. This is not for school viewing, but with parental approval, should be fine for mature high school students to watch in the home.
Creators and Stars: Sebastian Faulks, Eddie Redmayne, Clemence Poesy, Matthew Goode, Richard Madden, Joseph Mawle, Marie-Josee Croce
Historical Accuracy: This film is based on the Sebastian Faulks novel of the same name. Set in northern France during World War I, it features flashbacks to a period circa 1911. The trenches here are largely dry, something that is not often seen in WWI movies. The horrors of the war, however, are accurately (and violently) displayed. Regarding the war effort, the focus here is on the tunnelers who dug beneath the trenches under constant fear of collapse and run-ins with the enemy.
Review: Birdsong is first and foremost a love story. The desolation of the war is a metaphor for the life of the main character (Stephen Wraysford, played by Eddie Redmayne) after the end of his relationship with Isabelle Azaire (played by Clemence Poesy). The acting is, on all sides, superb.
For educational purposes, Birdsong does a terrific job of illustrating the lives of World War I tunnelers, battles, and the like. Viewers see the elaborate living quarters dug into the trenches.
Unlike most First World War films, which are set merely in the trenches, Birdsong is an "urban" war movie, if such a genre of war film can be said to exist. That is, the French town of Amiens is shown both before and during the war. This can help students to realize that wars are not fought far away on battlefields in the middle of nowhere; wars are fought in and near cities, and the cities (and their residents, as in the case of Isabelle Azaire) are often injured or even killed.
The flashbacks to France before the war can help to give students a good sense of time and place. This film is definitely worth watching at home for mature high school students with parental consent.
Miscellaneous: The book is also well worth reading. It gives even more of a sense of the passage of time by including as a character the granddaughter of Stephen and Isabelle, who researches their story in the late 1970s.
Possible Discussion Questions: (1) Compare and contrast Amiens before and during the war. (2) Imagine that you are a soldier in World War I. Would you rather fight in the trenches or dig tunnels underground? Why? (3) In what ways was this war more or less destructive than other wars you have learned about, and why? (4) After going through such a deadly war, why do you suppose that Europeans were willing to enter another war (World War II) only about 20 years later?
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Birdsong Television Miniseries Review Publication Date for Citation Purposes: April 1, 2012