Thursday, April 26, 2012

As Wonderful as Birdsong and as Impossible as Peace

I love you! I love you! I love youuu!!!
Before I get started, I just need to warn you that... *SOBBING* ... *HEART-CLUTCH* ... *FAINTS ON COUCH* ... *SMELLING SALTS* ... Oh, I'm sorry, but... *SOBBING UN-CON-TROLLABLY*. I'm sorry, I just *sniff*... in the words of my elven love Legolas, "For me the grief is still too near." I have been waiting all year for Birdsong and I've got to say, dear readers, part one was worth the wait and moreThe epic story, based on Sebastian Faulks' novel of the same name, folds in past and present, love and war, friendship and betrayal, in one heart-crunching sear to the soul. 

I couldn't believe how many ALL CAPS FEELINGS came rushing at me at once. I haven't been this moved by a period piece since Downton Abbey. And by moved I obviously mean screaming at the TV screen. Of course the difference is that Birdsong tells its story in a mere two parts, not two seasons. So while the story doesn't feel like it's moving particularly fast, the characters have you in an excruciating heart-lock in lightning speed. But it does it in a way that's surprising and new. Because you don't necessarily get attached to the characters the moment they are introduced. Halfway through and even later I suddenly found myself sighing out loud over people I had had on the emotional back-burner.

The story follows Stephen Wraysford both in the No Man's Land trenches of the WWI and the memories of the French woman he fell in love with before the war. First off, let me just say I knew I would love Birdsong, at the very least, because this main character is played by our prince Eddie Redmayne. I have long been in awe with his dreamy voice and subtleties of his portrayals, so to say I was biased going into this would be an understatement. Admittedly. 

On what planet is this fair?
But believe me when I say, his performance blew. me. away. It was as if I was seeing him on screen for the very first time. I actually held my breath. Spellbound. I l-o-v-e an actor who says a lot without saying anything. And this was one of those rare portrayals that didn't feel like a portrayal at all. It felt real. Some of his scenes in the battlefield were particularly poignant and, I would wager, some of the strongest of his career. Yes, half of Birdsong is a forbidden love story, but it was in the trenches that he truly shone. The moments where he got choked up and had to physically force the words out? Kill me now.
Popped collar WWI style... Oh, Prince Eddie! OH.
Much to Stephen's dismay, some of his men have been recruited by Captain Gray (played by Matthew Goode *faints*) to help dig the tunnels under No Man's Land in the hopes of setting off explosives under the Germans. Unfortunately, the Germans are doing the exact same thing. So they have to be as quiet as they can in their work, often hearing the enemy on the other side of the rocks. His men join the likes of Jack Firebrace, arguably the best miner in the group toiling underground. But when Stephen catches him sleeping during his watch above ground, he is stone cold, punishing him with court martial. The scene where Firebrace arrives to face his sentence is both breathtaking and terrifying. After the flashbacks to Stephen's happy memories falling in love with Isabelle, you have to wonder what on earth has happened that has left him so unhinged. Just when you think he's about to soften, his eyes harden over with gut-wrenching speed. In the end, it is nothing but a lucky ace at the top of a deck of cards that saves Firebrace from a firing squad. Talk about a nail biter! I could barely breathe!

Stephen's comrades are one of my favorite aspects of the entire story. They allow his humanity to resurface even in the most grim circumstances. Captain Michael Weir (played by Richard Madden *double faints*), the leader of all the goings on underground, has a particular knack for this. He is all warmth and friendliness in a troubled time when it shouldn't be so easy to be so.
I will learn to knit ugly sweaters for you if you promise to smile like that for me, you darling darling man.
He can also make a simple statement like, "I've never seen you get so much as a bar of chocolate," and it will nag you through the entire episode. Why isn't Stephen getting any mail from Isabelle? Why? WHY?!
Otherwise known as Uncle Benjen in Game of Thrones! ZOMG! House Stark represent!!!
Then there is Firebrace. This one snuck up on me. Instead of harboring resentment towards Stephen for the if-you-can-call-it-that court martial, he respects him. Perhaps this is due to watching the tender way he cared for a dying soldier before then. He glimpsed some life, some feeling, behind those dead eyes. Something he could identify with. Another one of my favorite scenes with the two of them is when Stephen is forced to go down into the tunnels with his men. An infantry man, he is utterly panic stricken at the notion of being in such a confined and crumbling space for so long.
Flawless scene is flawless.
Stephen: Firebrace? You're sure this will hold?
Firebrace: It's not up to London Underground standards, sir. But I reckon you can ride a train through it good enough.

There! That was the moment I fell in love with "your head's here, but your heart's always somewhere else" Firebrace. To use a phrase coined by my roommate yesterday, he gave me melty chocolate eyes. Such compassion for a commander who had, till now, given him hell within hell. This is a bromance in the making, no mistake! And it just gives me a lot of ALL CAPS FEELINGS!!! Unlikely friendships in the midst of war is one of my favorite things to see on screen. One of my favorites! I'm talking top tier FEELING ALL THE FEELINGS arrow-to-the-heart goodness. Seriously. You don't even know. Just get me talking about Band of Brothers aka the best. series. ever. But I digress...
Sign me up for a circa 1910 love affair with Prince Eddie in the French countryside any day!
I guess maybe you want to know a little about the love backstory? Well, okay. Before the war, Stephen was  sent to Amiens, France to work under René Azaire in his textile factory. He lives with René's family, which uncomfortably includes two ladies with the hots for their new guest. First, there's his "new" wife Isabelle and his 16 year-old daughter (girl, shouldn't you be a quartet groupie at this age or something?). In time, Stephen learns that Isabelle takes bread to the striking textile workers and their starving families. He also sees that René and Isabelle have an uneasy- to put it lightly- relationship. Once he confesses to her that he hears René yelling and her crying at night, the floodgates open and their magnetic attraction snowballs past the point of no return. All these tension-filled flashbacks give us lots of PROXIMITY!!!
S'il vous plait!!!
Of course, I'd be misleading you if I said the proximity came first. The gazes came first, then an abrupt moment of passion (I'm sorry, but can we talk about the moment where she hesitates opening the bedroom door and he puts his hand on top of hers and forces the door open? My petticoat needed a little more warning!), lots of... ahem... juiciness, and then proximity. And let's not forget the little stalker montage through the crowded streets of town, which came before the abrupt passion. I love a good stalker sesh! It makes me think of Marius in Les Mis (who, incidentally, Eddie Redmayne will be playing in the upcoming adaptation!!!) and that makes me glowingly happy! What does this say about me? Never mind. I don't want to know.

At the end of the episode (*SPOILER ALERT*), Isabelle runs away with Stephen to who knows where. These are the triumphant moments flashing through his mind after taking a bullet from a German in the underground tunnels and he is presumed dead. My beloved when-can-we-start-courting hero Firebrace finds him barely alive in the piles of the dead and carries him back to camp. 
I owe you big time, Firebrace. Like... I owe you a betrothal big.
While he's doing so, Stephen keeps repeating Isabelle's name. So what happened? Why hasn't she written to him? Why is he so miserable (you know, apart from being shot and left for dead)? What could possibly have happened with her that has left him so heartsick and emotionally threadbare? War affects people differently. He never had Michael's happy-go-lucky disposition. But the flashbacks in France showed a confident young man who acted as if nothing could hurt him; as if everything he ever wanted was within grasp. And that man is not on the battlefield. He is strong and resolute, but markedly changed. 

I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for part two! The story is so rich, encompassing all facets of human emotion, and is filmed beautifully. It's mesmerizing to watch. The cast is mind-numbingly strong, the sets and costumes genuine, and the story lines captivating. While I am much more interested with what's going on in No Man's Land, I am interested to see what must have happened with Isabelle. Poor Prince Eddie! But my heart is in knots. The more I think about the conclusion, the more the CREYES come out. Because I'm not an idiot. This is a WWI drama. Which means the livelihoods of all four of my fictional boyfriends soldier beaus are at stake. And I just... can't... handle- *INFINITE SOBBING*


  1. I still think you should live-blog your reactions to this because:
    A) It would be highly entertaining.
    B) You'd only be saying all the things the rest of us are thinking.

    1. Your wish is my command! WATCH OUT INTERNET! *opens floodgate to ALL THE FEELINGS*