Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Siegfried Sassoon met Wilfred Owen at Craiglockhart Castle in 1917, when it was a military hospital for shell shocked soldiers. There, Sassoon, the older man, encouraged Owen with his poetry.

The film is not the history of a doomed relationship, neither is it an Eng Lit biopic dressed in khaki. It is about war. The futility, madness and horror of war. And what it does to the human spirit. Sassoon is at Craiglockhart to shut him up after publishing a pamphlet attacking the generals. He is not ill, certainly not raving. He is a prisoner of conscience. There are others, such as Billy Prior (the excellent Jonny Lee Miller), an officer from the ranks who lost the gift of speech and Dr Rivers, the sympathetic psychiatrist in charge of the place, who demands respect.

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If the patients are living proof of Sassoon's belief in the insanity of institutionalised murder, Rivers is the conduit for their anguish. Jonathan Pryce conveys the burden of inner conflict with exceptional subtlety, as James Wilby carries Sassoon's intellectual fury with fortitude.

The scenes in the trenches are more harrowing than ever and the Scott/Simpson screenplay, adapted from a prize-winning novel, is unusually intelligent. MacKinnon has become a Scottish director of the highest standing, with only one blip (A Simple Twist Of Fate). He has the ability to hold back tears long enough to study character in considerable depth.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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War poets meet in a military hospital for shell shocked soldiers.
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Director: Gillies Mackinnon

Writer: Allan Scott, Peter R Simpson, based on the novel by Pat Barker

Starring: Jonathan Pryce, James Wilby, Jonny Lee Miller, Stuart Bunce, Tanya Allen, David Hayman, Dougray Scott, John Neville, Paul Young, Alastair Galbraith, Eileen Nicholas

Year: 1997

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK/Canada



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