As an English soldier fights in the horrific trenches of northern France, he is haunted by the memories of his forbidden love affair with a French woman.
Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Wraysford
Clemence Posey as Isabelle Azaire
As soon as I heard there was a new BBC period drama to be broadcast early this year, I was excited. I got even more excited when I saw the trailer and how gorgeous the whole piece looked. The actors looked yummy, the costumes looked yummy, even the scenery was breathtaking. Clemence Posey looked so flawlessly beautiful as Isabelle Azaire, it was hard to believe she was real. In fact the whole thing just looked spectacular and I just couldn’t wait to watch it.
Sadly, when I did sit down to watch it, I was far from impressed. Things started well enough as the series fades in on a war torn battlefield in 1916. Stephen, our hero tries to rallies his groups and then proceeds to remember events from his past-how he met a woman and slowly fell in love with her. These flashback scenes are intertwined with scenes of him trying to survive the war with his comrades.
The cinematography was gorgeous (everything was filmed in this soft, flattering light which made everything, including the gritty battle scenes look as if it belonged in a dream), the score was beautiful, the story was intriguing, the acting was great; it’s almost hard to believe how this could have gone wrong. But go wrong it did and the fault lay mainly with the screenplay and the pacing. This should have been a wonderful classic drama but my goodness, it was SLOW. Like agonizingly slow.
Let me give you a taste of what the pacing is like: Stephen and Isabelle are in a boat and she avoids looking at him for 5 seconds. He then slowly lifts his eyes to look her way (another 5 seconds) before she turns around and her foot lightly leans against his. His eyes flicker down and we get another 5 second shot of their feet touching before he raises his eyes (again for 5 seconds) and she avoids his gaze (again for another 5 seconds) before she finally (finally!) turns and they share a long, smouldering look. Ok, now I’ve got nothing against silent, smouldering looks from across a room (or a boat)-in fact I adore them; after all, who can forget Lizzy and Darcy’s smouldering looks shared over the piano in the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice?
The problem is you can’t make a whole movie (let alone a romance) out of a bunch of smouldering looks and moments from two very good looking people and have the audience care about them. Eddie and Clemence look good together and yet they had absolutely no chemistry. They barely spoke in the movie and me as an audience member simply could not get involved in their love story. I couldn’t see they shared anything other than good looks and a whole lot of L-U-S-T.
The battle scenes weren’t much better and the emotional effect of war on the soldiers wasn’t well shown at all. As a result, the war scenes ended up feeling un-necessary, just an excuse for a some action amidst all that slow, draggy romance.
So between the painful pacing and the complete lack of chemistry between these so-called lovers, this BBC series was a great opportunity wasted.
If only, if only…
Historical Drama Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Sexiness Rating: 3 out of 5
Eddie and Clemence are both gorgeous people but without chemistry, their scenes lacked fire and sexiness.
BBC One: Aired January 22 and 29, 2012
PBS: Due to air April 22 and 29, 2012
Click here to view the BBC page.
Click here to view the PBS page.