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Birdsong - Final episode reviewed

Eddie Redmayne in Birdsong

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

THE final part of Abi Morgan’s adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong was an extraordinary tear-jerker and yet another powerful anti-war message.

Picking up as Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Wraysford recovered from the near-fatal wounds he had sustained towards the end of the first episode, it wasted no time in sending him back to the frontline where he continued to reflect on his passionate relationship with Clémence Poésy’s Isabelle while attempting to make sense of why it failed.

The answers were, in the final analysis, simple but played a crucial part in Wraysford’s journey from idealistic young boy in love to battle-scarred adult. Yet they came at great cost.

Morgan’s screenplay eschewed some of the greater complexities of Faulks’ text, including a third time period set in the ’70s involving Wraysford’s grand-daughter and Isabelle’s subsequent affair with a German.

But in doing so, it made things sharper and, perhaps, even more tragic, while also enabling Joseph Mawle’s fellow soldier Firebrace to provide the series with its real heart.

For Wraysford’s emotional awakening was starkly juxtaposed with Firebrace’s decline and made the last act realisation, that ‘there is nothing more sir, than to love and be loved’ even more poignant.

Where Wraysford had the chance to live and be united with the daughter he never knew he had, Firebrace became one of the final victims of the war, albeit a long since fatally wounded one given the emotional turmoil of losing his own son to illness at home.

Firebrace’s anguish, his heart-breaking sorrow and his sustained sense of dignity and friendship were brilliantly captured by Mawle, and provided a striking contrast to Wraysford’s often more insular emotions. Indeed, it was only through witnessing Firebrace’s pain and loyalty that he came to understand his own place.

Redmayne, too, excelled in making this journey… his early impassive nature, his ghostly demeanour, eventually giving rise to a strong, dignified leader and, potentially, great dad. If the final moments between him and Mawle were marked by tears of sadness, then the final image of him being reunited with his daughter brought tears of relief and joy.

Earlier on, meanwhile, Philip Martin’s direction brought about tears of a different kind in a genuinely moving sequence that captured the futility and sheer-blooded military stupidity of sending thousands of young soldiers to near-certain death.

Images of the men going over the top and advancing towards their slaughter were contrasted with scenes of them writing and excerpts from the final letters they had written home… many of them expressing love, missed opportunity and futile optimism.

It was chilling, yet moving and effortlessly captured the senselessness of that particular campaign without the need to cover the ensuing sacrifice in blood and gore.

That sequence, more than any, perhaps captured the overall brilliance of this two-part series with its underlying message about love and sacrifice on the battlefield.

And in doing so, it ensured that the bravery of those young men will not be forgotten, even as the surviving members of that generation of fighters have now been laid to permanent rest.

Birdsong, crucially, stands as a classic piece of television that looks set to be revisited by many more generations.