Perspectives: War Art with Eddie Redmayne, ITV - TV review: The Oscar winner can make use of his degree at last

Curiosity and eloquence results in an engaging hour on the topic

Click to follow

Last time I checked, a degree in a subject doesn’t make you an authority. But combine a natural curiosity and eloquence, plus Oscar-winning on-screen skills, and it results in an engaging hour on a topic – as Eddie Redmayne proved in this Perspectives film on war art.     

In the affecting – if not exactly scholarly – programme, Redmayne, a Cambridge history of art graduate, looked at pieces  from the past two centuries. His main focus was the First World War, a period he portrayed in an adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’s novel Birdsong in 2012. He told us that preparing for the role he found art the most effective tool to immerse himself in the era: “To convey intimately what is often beyond description.”

Redmayne talked us through his favourite works – the likes of pieces by the Nash Brothers, David Bomberg and Christopher Nevinson – via visits to the front line in Belgium and the Imperial War Museum. Looking every inch the Burberry model – checked scarf, pea coat, almost preposterous flat cap – it would have been easy to be dazzled, but his eloquence and enthusiasm immersed you in the subject rather than the presenter: “Everywhere you look, you find tombs and graves scattered in tragic proliferations, intensively marking the losses… it’s mind-blowing,” he breathed on  a visit to where the war dead lay.

In the latter third of the programme, he turned his attention to later works from Bosnia, Afghanistan and Syria, meeting the artists who bore witness. He was an interested interviewer but let his  personality come through. “I’ve always  had a weird fetish for palate knives,” he told the war artist Peter Howson as they discussed censorship.

Before the credits rolled, we were rightly given more time to reflect on all the works – and possibly on what Eddie would do next.