Friday, 10 February 2012

Birdsong - BBC adaptation - review

I shall never forget the massive WHOOOOT! I let out when I saw this advertised on TV for the first time one Sunday evening. I think I even shushed The Beard in rather a rude fashion so that I could give it my full attention.

It was the WW1 snippets of said advert that had grabbed my eye. I had to know what it was.

Once I knew it was a BBC adaptation of Birdsong, I realised I had to read it before it aired. Why I set myself these challenges is beyond me, but I did it in under 10 days -  which is a record for me - and reviewed it here

I sat down and waited, with baited breath....

First off, it was beautifully shot. The costume was stunning and the locations vibrant and realistic. It was all pretty much as I had imagined it to be when I read the novel.

I already knew that I would not be bothered by the love story. I know some of you adored it, but I could not stomach it in the novel -  and on screen was no different. In fact, I found it more annoying, because any suspense from the novel was swallowed up on screen by longing looks and tinkly piano music.

It was the Great War parts of the adaptation, which I had fallen in love with in the book, that I wanted to see portrayed on screen. And for me they didn't disappoint. I think a lot of effort was put into the script to make it as true to the book as possible -  but invariably, there were parts that failed to translate.

Sadly they were the parts of the novel that make a connection to the reader. So -  the important bits.

Like character development  -  and the way in which a relationship grows. I was gripped in the book by the turn of events that cemented Wraysford and Firebrace as friends. For me, pretty much all of this was either omitted from the script -  or not given enough time for the viewer to grasp.

I felt it was the same with the flash back moments. I do not feel that enough attention to the fact the protagonist was now in the middle of a war in the very same countryside in which he fell in love was conveyed at all. For me, this was one of the most poignant parts of the whole novel. Just like his relationship with Isabelle, so to has the landscape been mangled and destroyed.

This could have been easily solved by, oh, I dunno, a quick word "Ameins" on the screen -  so the viewer could realise where he was and how it had changed.

I tried to watch this with an open mind, and not compare it to book too much, which I found a little impossible. So -  I had to enlist the help of The Beard and ask for his opinion, so I can judge this properly.

He felt that it was slow and failed to really hold him. He began to care a little about the characters -  but it didn't move him all that much. He also bored of the mumbling. And the simpering looks. And I would have to agree. I tried to weigh up how much of my feelings about it were being swayed by the fact that I knew the story, which left me frowning.

I think that, had this been made in three 90 minute shows, then a lot more of the book could have been scripted. Especially the 1970's parts, which for me, make it all the more relative to today for people looking back and wanting to know more.

I worry that such a mixed portrayal could turn people off of wanting to read the novel at all -  and potentially learning anything more about the Great War it's self. Which, for those of you that know me, makes me twitch a little and reach for my soap-box.

But. But, but, but. I could be very wrong on that score. And I hope I am.

Please, tell me what you thought of it? I would love to know...

So, the score?


*sad face*

(all images from courtesy of BBC)


  1. When I read the book, it took me good third to really get into it. But I did, and I adored it. There can always be such a strong feeling to protect the story you know, and sometimes I shy away from films and adaptations as they do tend to disappoint. How can they possibly fit a whole book into the time they have??? Hummmm, Birdsong they obviously focused on the love story, which eeek sorry I really, really loved. I enjoyed the stolen glances, the wonderful costumes, the dappled sunlight. I was able to watch with my hubby, he enjoyed the war element, and I the romance.....I know most of my friends who had read the book watched with mixed feelings, but I felt a real sense of the affect of a war, on landscape, people, nothing can be the same again...Though, thats the very hope they have. Do I rate it? Ok ummmmm 8/10! What can I say, I swooned and cried....!!!
    Nattie x

  2. Hey Nattie - thanks for commenting. I love the fact you loved it! Hurrah!!! :)

  3. I haven't read the book and probably won't now that I've seen the TV series. I really enjoyed it though - despite the mumbling and rather random narrative at times.

    I haven't read or watched much about WW1 being all too pre-occupied by WW2, so this was perhaps the first time I've ever seen a reconstruction of the trenches on screen and perhaps also the first time I seriously thought about how life must have been for soldiers. It's made me want to find out a lot more (I'm currently going through your book reviews to see what to read next)so in that sense, I think it was a great adaptation.

  4. Hey Lena - thats GREAT! exactly what I think i needed to hea - about it making you want to know more. I love having my worries dissapated! :)

  5. Oh my GOSH! I agree with everything! I hadn't read the book but myself and the Sideburn(?) and I were really excited to watch it. After the first part I did my best impression of my Dad when he slags off Lost. "What's with all the bloody looking and the staring?".
    It didn't put me off too much as I love the lead actor, Eddie Redmayne, so I tuned in for the second part. I had no idea untill some way into the second part, I think when he actually said "I spent a summer here before the war" that I actually clicked that it was the same place. I enjoyed the second part much more but, like you, for the parts depicting the Great War. There's something strange about it; I hate how many people died and it moves me to tears but I still watch. I cried at the end too so maybe I was emotionally attached. I cry very easily though. Oh no spilt milk - waa! Ha.
    As an additional bonus when the second part was aired I was in the Lake District with my boyfriend for my birthday and the head waiter bloke looked just like Steven. Oh! It was amazing.

  6. I recorded it and watched it by myself the first time, then again with my other half last weekend, he wanted to see it, too. I was really irritated by the poor sound quality and poor enunciation, but the war scenes made us both really very weepy. Neither of us have read the book..he doesn't like Faulks' style...and I imagine a lot was omitted, I was left a little confused as to why she actually left him but perhaps that's just my ignorance, didn't pay enough attention to it.
    But I think you would have to have a heart of stone not to be upset by the battle scenes etc and not to think about the millions who died in such shocking conditions. This was reality for so many. I knew a number of men, both on a personal level, and some I a great aunt who had been in the FANY in WW1...who had been through the wars. They all had a certain far away look in their eyes.
    And after reading "They Called It Passchendaele" in my early twenties, and being violently sick at one part, I am not in the least surprised.

  7. Lolly - That book is one teetering near the top of my TBR pile ;)

  8. Oh the mumbling, the MUMBLING! I'm glad I wasn't the only one (I took to Twitter to have a quick rant halfway through an episode).

    I adored the book - possibly my favourite novel of all time, which is saying a lot. I have visited the Somme, Amiens and Ypres, so like you, WW1 is something I feel very strongly about. I enjoyed the tv adaptation, but I kept waiting for the 1970s element, and thought it should have been included to add depth. I agree that there should have been more reference to Amiens changing, and then... there was the mumbling!

    That said, I watched both parts, was glad the trenches scenes were not over-romanticised, and thought it was beautifully shot.

  9. My MIL has just lent me the book so I'm waiting to read that before settling down to watch the series. I'm looking forward to both.

  10. You're mad! It was AMAZING! I CRIED! I never cry! Haven't read the book but am saving it for post-literature degree happiness. A xx also NOOOOM

  11. p.s. also agree with Lena. I want to learn much more about ww1 xx

  12. Believe me, you'll need a strong stomach and a pile of tissues, it wrecked me.

  13. I loved the book. I have no clue as to when it will be shown in the US but am now eagerly awaiting it. I've been following your blog for awhile and enjoy it immensely as I am drawn to similar periods in history. Thanks!

  14. Even though I haven't read the book (t'is on the list) I think I agree with you and The Beard. It was slow, too slow in fact, and because of that I lost interest and got confused. To be honest, I didn't get the friendship between Firebrace and Wraysford, but denoted that there was supposed to be a great relationship there.

    But weren't the costumes lovely?

  15. I've already aired my views about this on your facebook page, but I'll jump in again all the same! Note: I haven't read the book.

    Thought the love story was fine, though it was clear before it even began that it was doomed, and TBH I'm not a fan of doomed love stories - so overdone. So I didn't hate it, but I also don't think the story would have suffered for the love interest being left out entirely. If on the other hand the 1970s parts of the book HAD been included, it would have made the doomed affair more relevant.

    I thought the relationship between Firebrace and Wraysford was quite well developed for the short space of time the adapation allowed - I sort of got that they had their bonding moment when Firebrace picks Wraysford off the dead pile, and that was the turning point for their friendship. Type thing. I note from reading a synopsis that this differs from the book, so this little moment was presumably intended to stand in for whatever pivotal events cement their relationship in the book.

    All in all I'll rate it 7/10 for reasonably strong character development (for the time available). Marked down for repeated "zoom in on Wraysford staring into the distance" scenes and for the lack of a believable reason for her to leave him (don't know if in the book he gives her a more compelling reason).

    Maybe you should have watched it first and read the book after?

    xx Charlotte
    Tuppence Ha'penny

  16. Also agreed on your FB page - but will say again, an excellent review. And having not read the book for a while, I did feel a bit dense when I suddenly realised they were in the same place in France. And Clemence Poesy was terribly, er, blank, most of the time.

  17. I haven't read the book. I thought the show was ok.
    The trench scenes were really well done, though I had to agree with the review in Metro that grumbled Stephen survives SO much, just keeps on surviving disaster again and again and again you start to think 'really?'.
    I was driven to distraction by the over long close up shots of people staring wistfully into the distance, they seemed to go on for hours.
    I also had to go into work on Monday and ask my collegue, who had read the book, why exactly Isabelle had left him. Perhaps somewhere I missed that but I didn't think it was explained clearly.

    1. Forgot to add I loved the character of Firebrace and was heartbroken he died.

  18. I was really nervous, as I said before I've read the book about 15 times! It wasn't as good as the book but I think if it brings WW1 to more people that can only be a good thing. I agree with lots of your points but most of my friends thought it was excellent. I was shocked how much I cried in the 2nd one..... I started crying as they went in the tunnel as I knew they wouldn't come back :(
    I thought it was very good & had I not read the book I would be raving about it.... I would give it 9/10 x

  19. I had seen snippets of this during the adverts but I never watched it when it was on tv! Maybe I can catch it on BBC iPlayer!

    I've tagged you over on my blog to do the latest nosey tag going around. I hope you don't mind! xxx

  20. "There is nothing more than to love and be loved..."

    I've seen love stories combined with war many other times (Pearl Harbour, The Notebook, W.E.), but this series gave me chilling. Very curious!
    Eddie Redmayne is such a beautiful actor!

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  22. I remember when this book first came out and it was THE book to read on the train commute. Everyone I know who read it found it slow and admitted that they only stuck with it for the occasional pages of filth!
    I've not read it myself.

  23. Gaaah! I STILL haven't got around to watching this! It is saved on my iPlayer.

  24. I also am intrigued by this show!
    I need to catch it on the BBC player.

  25. I felt that considering they only had two 90 minute time slots they coped well considering how long the book is (it has been described as an epic purely based on it's size) and portrayed much of the characterization very well, the only thing I felt should have had more emphasis was Weir's dependency on alcohol. You say you don't feel they showed enough of Wraysford and Firebrace's relationship, I feel they over did it as in the book though they are aware of each other Stephen doesn't seem to care much for Jack until he is in the tunnel with him at the end but the TV adaptation, for me, made it seem like they were good friends all the way through. Also I am glad they did not include the parts from the 1970's as I felt they completely took away from the novel being a potential masterpiece, I felt they were completely extraneous and I felt the way they took the information given to the reader in the 1970's scenes and scripted them into the 1917 parts worked really well. I'm afraid I also have to disagree with much of what you said about the love scenes, they were intertwined very well into the war scenes through flash backs (which can sometimes get boring and annoying but here worked well) I actually feel it worked better using flash backs rather than if they'd used a chronological time line as the book does (until the 1970's scenes) I think the writer of the adaptation intertwined the two separate stories very well and if anything made the love story more heartbreaking.

  26. Hey there Emily - thanks for stopping by & commenting :) Love your difference of opinion! It's what makes the world go round :)


I'd love to hear what you think so feel free to comment away!


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