Top positive review
on 4 April 2017
I have only recently got to know Benjamin Britten's War Requiem and this wonderful film has done much to enhance my appreciation of this fascinating work.
In Derek Jarman’s 1989 film adaptation, produced by Don Boyd and financed by the BBC, the Requiem, written in 1962 for the dedication of the new Coventry Cathedral, is visualised as an elongated music video, with the 1963 recording serving as the soundtrack. Decca Records required that the 1963 recording be heard on its own, with no overlaid soundtrack or other sound effects.
The film has no spoken dialogue, simply following the music and lyrics of Britten's War Requiem, which include WWI soldier poet Wilfred Owen's poems reflecting the ‘pity of war’.
Nathaniel Parker is featured as Owen, while Laurence Olivier, in his last work on film before his death, is the Old Soldier in a wheelchair who recites "Strange Meeting" in the film's prologue and around whose reminiscences the film is structured.
The film combines images of war throughout history and dramatic sequences of people caught up in the First World War, showing the story of an English soldier and a battlefield nurse (his bride); Tilda Swinton’s enactment of the mourning women is intensely moving. The exquisitely styled, almost balletic silent scenes burn themselves into the memory. During the Libera me, a battery of hideous documentary newsreel footage of contemporary wars (WWII, Vietnam, Angola, etc.) are intercut with sequences featuring Owen Teale (as the Unknown Soldier) and the nurse looking powerlessly on at all the devastation and wasted lives.
Olivier’s contribution is very moving, while Parker, Teale and, especially, Swanton are all spellbinding; also featured are Sean Bean as the German Soldier, Patricia Hayes, Nigel Terry and Alex Jennings.
The soundtrack is Britten’s own recording of the work, featuring, appropriately enough a British tenor (Peter Pears), a German baritone (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau) and a Russian soprano (Galina Vishnevskaya), and what a marvellous work it is!
This astonishing work is perhaps Derek Jarman's greatest film with the visionary director’s ultimately inspiring, negative statement on war matching the intense emotions of Britten's music to perfection.
The ‘special features’, which include an audio commentary by the producer Don Boyd, are very interesting indeed.