Despite promising material - the relationship between World War One poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and the pioneering work of psychiatrist Dr W.H.R. Rivers in dealing with shell-shocked soldiers at Craiglockhart Hospital in Scotland - and Pat Barker's fine source novel, Regeneration/Behind the Lines is something of a disappointment. It's not so much that it's bad, though it does have many problems, more that it's not great when it could and should have been.
Gillies MacKinnon's direction is a big part of the problem, a victim of too much good taste and restraint and not terribly cinematic either, rarely venturing much beyond medium shots. The material needs attack and passion, but instead it feels like a well-staged piece that's too nervous about offending its potential audience's sensibilities to really go for the throat. The casting is problematic too: Jonathan Pryce is fine as the psychiatrist gradually assuming his patients maladies himself as he faces the irony of curing men so they can be sent back to possibly die at the front but Jonny Lee Miller remains unconvincing as the resentful working class officer Billy Prior, cutting far too contemporary a figure to convince in a period piece. However, the scenes between James Wilby and Stuart Bunce as Sassoon and Owen really take hold, and it's here that the film all too rarely finds its heart and soul. It's a film that stands up a lot better on a second viewing partially because of lower expectations, but it's much too polite to do its subject matter full justice. That the Dutch DVD is a slightly cut version does not help matters.