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Regeneration  [DVD]
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At Craiglockhart Hospital during World War One, officer and poet Siegfried Sassoon (James Wilby) writes a statement condemning the war. This leads him into conflict with military psychologist Dr William Rivers (Jonathan Pryce), who cannot accept Sassoon's pacifist stance. Sassoon strikes up a friendship with Wilfrid Owen (Stewart Bunce), who, inspired by him, begins writing his own poetry. Meanwhile, Rivers' attempts to help mute shell-shock victim Billy Prior (Johnny Lee Miller) are in vain until Billy embarks on a romance with Sarah, who works at a munitions factory.
From the Back Cover
Starring Jonathan Pryce, James Wilby, Jonny Lee Miller, Stuart Bunce, Tanya Allen, and John Neville, Gillies MacKinnon's highly praised adaptation of Pat Barker's novel is a moving and powerful study of war and its devastating effects. Set in a military hospital during World War I, the film tells of a real life encounter between army psychologist Dr William Rivers (Pryce) and the poet Siegfried Sassoon (Wilby), who has been institutionalised in an attempt to undermine his public disapproval of the war. It also concerns the young poet Wilfred Owen (Stuart Bunce) who, with support from Sassoon, begins to write his great war-poems. Rivers, whose duty it is to return shell-shocked officers to the trenches, is tormented by the morality of what is being done in the name of medicine, especially the treatment of working-class officer Billy Prior (Lee Miller) who has been struck dumb by the carnage he has witnessed.
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Films that attempt to deal with sensitive subjects such as this aren't thick on the ground. Of itself, that's no reason to give the film 5*. Nevertheless, it's well-cast and all of the actors give strong performances. Whilst the script may be somewhat prejudiced, it's still strong & well-written. The direction also deserves praise; there is nothing that disturbs immersion or the sense of the time portrayed. It may be imperfect, but it's still an excellent film well worth your time.
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, though Artificial Eye's UK DVD is uncut and offers a good widescreen transfer with interviews with MacKinnon, Pryce and Barker and trailer.
To say that I was gripped is understatement. I was also intensely moved, not merely by the plight of the mentally scarred men at Craiglockhart,(and NOT just Billy Prior), and by the poetry of both Sassoon and Owen; but above all by the astonishing portrayal by Jonathan Pryce of Major Rivers. Here is a man caught in the conundrum of healing the minds of soldiers, of clearing away the mental wall which they have thrown up to forget the horrors they have witnessed, but doing so knowing that they will be immediately returned to those horrors once he has cured them. And the depiction of Rivers' own declining mental state as he too comes to suffer the same symptoms as his patients almost by association was for me unforgettable.
It matters not that the film does not stick rigidly to the books. This is a film which stands out in its own right - moving, sensitive, superbly acted, and one which nobody who stands still for two minutes on Armistice Day at the eleventh hour should miss.
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Genuinely thought provoking and at times upsetting exploration of the devastating impact of war and the need...Read more