The upcoming April 22 premiere of Birdsong will, undoubtedly, bring endless comparisons to Downton Abbey. Airing as part of PBS’ Masterpiece series on April 22 and 29, the BBC adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ modern classic set during the First World War has, literally, been 20 years in the making.
When this appeared in the UK in early 2012, the BBC immediately announced that British drama is back and was as good as American drama such as Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire and The Wire. To be honest, I’m not sure that it took seeing Birdsong for me to come to that conclusion given the fact that you also have the likes of Spooks, Hustle, Life On Mars, Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs, Wallander, Case Histories, Zen and more to add to the mix.
Besides the BBC’s understandable singing of Birdsong praises, audiences seemed to again fall in love with the book and the sheer visual beauty of the small screen adaptation. It is extraordinary from a visual standpoint given that World War I is a prominent backdrop. The comparisons to Downton Abbey referred to earlier center around the fact that Birdsong beautifully intertwines the passion of a love affair with the utter horror of a World War. It’s the story of Wraysford (Eddie Redmayne), a young Englishman who falls in love with a French woman, Isabelle, (Clémence Poésy) while working for her husband. The program also stars Anthony Andrews (Brideshead Revisited, The King’s Speech), Matthew Goode (Brideshead Revisited) and Joseph Mawle (Murder on the Orient Express).
As many involved from the beginning will say, Birdsong was a very difficult novel to adapt given that it spans the time frame of 1910 to 1978. This might give some insight as to why it’s taken almost 20 years to successfully create since the novel was written. For a much deeper understanding as to what transpired between 1993 and 2012 to bring 45 actors, 125 production personnel and over 100 extras together to create visually stunning television, click here for some great behind the scenes and the making of Birdsong.
In the interim, Masterpiece devotees can watch tonight’s broadcast of Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood.