Battlelines of love

Programme Name: Birdsong - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Embargoed for publication until: 03/01/2012 - Picture Shows:  Stephen Wraysford (EDDIE REDMAYNE) - (C) BBC/Working Title - Photographer: Giles Keytes
Programme Name: Birdsong - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Embargoed for publication until: 03/01/2012 - Picture Shows: Stephen Wraysford (EDDIE REDMAYNE) - (C) BBC/Working Title - Photographer: Giles Keytes
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Birdsong

(BBC One, Sunday, 9pm)

If you’ve never heard of the novel Birdsong, you’re either completely uninterested in reading, or you’ve been living on Mars for the past 19 years.

When Sebastian Faulks’ book was first published in 1993, it was a sensation, winning universal acclaim.

Critics adored it, but more importantly, the public did too, helping turn it into a best-seller that came 13th on the BBC’s Big Read survey which was set up to find the books we Brits love the most, perhaps surprisingly beating the likes of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

But arguably the biggest surprise about Birdsong is that it’s taken so long for a screen adaptation to come our way. Working Title Films (whose productions include Four Weddings and a Funeral and Shaun of the Dead) were originally going to turn it into a big-screen offering, but perhaps the box office failure of another of their literary adaptations – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – put them off.

Instead, they retained the rights, but opted to make it a small-screen project for the BBC, with writer Abi Morgan on board to pen the screenplay.

She’s currently one of British TV and film’s hottest properties thanks to her work on The Hour, Brick Lane, The Iron Lady and Shame.

“It is hugely exciting to be working with Abi Morgan and director Philip Martin in bringing this modern classic to the screen,” says Juliette Howell, Working Title’s head of television.

“Abi’s captivating scripts and Philip’s powerful vision are the perfect combination to create an exceptional piece that promises to delight both fans of the novel and those coming to the story for the first time.”

Ah yes, that all-important story...

Eddie Redmayne and Clemence Poesy head the cast as star-cross’d lovers Stephen and Isabelle, who meet in France in 1910 when he arrives to learn more about manufacturing from her husband.

They begin an affair, which has huge consequences for them both.

Six years later, Stephen, now an officer in the British army during the First World War, is serving on the Western Front, in the same area where he met Isabelle.

While there, he befriends tunneller Jack Firebrace, who helps him come to terms with both the conflict and his lost love.

However, Stephen is destined to meet Isabelle again...

It sounds like a very straightforward tale, and in some ways it’s that that makes Birdsong so moving – it’s a simple story of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances that is told extremely well.

“Birdsong had an overwhelming impact on me when I first read it in my teens,” admits Redmayne, who was last seen on the big screen in My Week with Marilyn, and also counts The Pillars of the Earth, The Good Shepherd and Elizabeth: The Golden Age among his most well-known acting credits.

“It is a privilege to now be a part of bringing Faulks’ masterpiece to the screen.”

Joseph Mawle, Richard Madden and Anthony Andrews also appear.