The Weekend's Viewing: Birdsong, Sun, BBC1
Hugh's Three Hungry Boys, Sun, Channel 4

 

"This war provides daily lessons in the extraordinary simplicity of the human anatomy," says Stephen Wraysford, as he points out a detail on an écorché drawing in his dugout.

Stephen has good reason to know this is true, because he's just experienced an unusually vivid cut-away diagram of the contents of the human abdomen, after a soldier under his command had his stomach blown open by a German shell.

The soldier died in front of him and Stephen's reaction here may look a little clinical, even unfeeling, to us. We know, though, that there's more to him than that because, like the original novel, Abi Morgan's version of Birdsong began elsewhere, at a different time and a different world.

It's taken a while to bring this book to the screen (much longer than is consistent with its enormous popularity) and it is carried towards us now with a kind of sacramental care, a deference towards its subject – the piteous horrors of the First World War – mingling with a deference towards the novel's established status as a readers' favourite. At first, I thought that the processional grace of Philip Martin's camerawork was intended to build a contrast; that the long, gentle tracking shots in Amiens would be replaced by something more violent and fractured at the Front – Monet pastoral brutally replaced by Nevinson vorticism. But as it happens, all of Birdsong turns out to be quite stately in its pacing – this being one of television's favoured ways of showing that it is in earnest. It's hard to resist the rhetoric – slow means gravely serious – but you take a risk that your characters will appear a little anaesthetised and numb.

In the trenches, that makes sense, but, even so, Morgan's Stephen seems a much colder, harsher figure than Faulks's damaged lieutenant. When Jack Firebrace is called to the dugout for court martial, having been found asleep on sentry duty, Stephen toys with his terror, appearing to decide his fate on the turn of a playing card, which is the behaviour of a sociopath not a wounded hero (think of Goeth in Schindler's List, or Chigurh in No Country for Old Men). And Morgan's decision to reshape the architecture of the book also underestimates the virtues of Faulks's structure, I think. Where he breaks his narratives into substantial chunks, Morgan cuts between peace and war from the very start. This points up the parallels between the two main strands in the book – the sense that the subterranean working of desire eventually detonates a mine in the Azaire house too – but it does so at the cost of ripening tension.

One can imagine the thinking behind this concession to viewer impatience – oh, they'll never wait that long for the explosions – but granting it nevertheless detracts from the slow build towards eruption that the book achieves more than once. There's always somewhere to escape to, in short, in a story that is about more than one kind of inescapable situation. And once you have escaped you find that war and peace have the same processional texture. There are times when it works beautifully (this is a production that looks stunning) but also, perhaps, too many occasions when you feel as if a wreath is being laid in honour of the book, rather than it being returned to you in renewed form.

Hugh's Three Hungry Boys is an amiable affair in which three friends have set out to travel from Devon to Land's End in a converted milk float, living only by barter and foraging, and using only sustainable electricity to top up their battery. So far, they seem to be proving that it's perfectly possible, as long as you have the help of a team of researchers and the considerable inducement of an attendant television camera. It also helps if you're not above foraging in the bins of a national supermarket chain when the fish don't bite. Good news for times of austerity.

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?