Quite by chance I watched Birdsong on Sunday evening and War Horse on Monday afternoon. Both feature an emotional interest set against the backdrop of the First World War, the Great War. Both derive from best-selling books, by Michael Morpurgo and Sebastian Faulks respectively. Both are beautifully filmed; neither held my interest for long.
Both sought to show the horror of the Western Front in France; the trenches, the incredible waste of life, the brutality of military life. Both had moments of sheer horror.. more I must say in BBC Television’s Birdsong rather than Spielberg’s multi-million film epic. But for me both failed. Pitching a simplistic emotional tale alongside the war does not work. I find it hard to recall that my grandfather was there even when I look at the records of his military service in France and hold his medals.
It is just over two years to August 2014. The centenary of the Guns of August of 1914, the war to end all wars. Commissioning editors, film producers and book publishers are gearing up for pitches for programmes to be shown in cinemas, on TV, on the internet and for books to read on our Kindles.
I’ve noticed over the last few years that the annual poppy day.. remembrance day in November. has taken on a more militaristic flavour. Not wearing a poppy shows disrespect to our current military; employers enforce a two-minute silence in their workplaces. Not to take part is unpatriotic.
Remembrance was introduced with two aims. “Lest we forget”: the fallen; those who were led to death and injury by politicians incapable of finding peaceful solutions. That laudable aim remains. August 2014 requires the second aim of remembrance to take equal prominence: “Never Again” .
Commissioning editors take note. War means no-one lives happily ever after.