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Regeneration

Director: Gillies Mackinnon


Based on the first novel of Pat Barker’s Booker Prize-winning trilogy about the First World War, Regeneration is a powerful and moving account of the psychological damage caused by the unendurable experiences of the front lines. Intelligently adapted by Allan Scott (best known as Nic Roeg’s writer-producer on Don’t Look Now), and directed with great skill by Gillies Mackinnon (The Grass Arena, Small Faces, Trojan Eddie), this is a searing yet thoughtful evocation of the agonies of war.
The setting is a Scottish military hospital where shell-shocked soldiers are treated by a pioneer psychiatrist, Dr. William Rivers (Jonathan Pryce). River’s most distinguished patients include the war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, who meet at the hospital in 1917 and become friends. The aristocratic Sassoon (James Wilby) is a brilliant and heroic soldier who is by no means mentally disturbed but has been sent to the asylum for publishing a pamphlet proclaiming his opposition to the war. He is idolised by fellow patient Owen (Stuart Bunce), who is inspired to write some of his best works during his convalescence, including Dulce et Decorum est and Anthem for Doomed Youth. A third soldier, Billy Prior (Jonny Lee Miller), is an officer who has risen through the ranks from a humble background and has been rendered mute by his experiences on the battlefield.
The sympathetic Dr. Rivers (a wonderful performance by Pryce) comes to embody the dilemmas thrown up by the war. Hovering on the edge of a mental breakdown as a result of his close involvement with his shattered patients, Rivers watches a fellow doctor ‘cure’ men by the brutal application of electric shock and is tormented by doubt about the morality of what is being done in the name of medicine. The film’s vivid images of war and bloody death are contrasted with the tenderness of young Prior’s love affair with a local factory girl, which provides a glimmer of normality in the wake of the trauma of war. Without ever reverting to sentimentality, the story questions whether those who have been broken by war – or those like Sassoon whose moral courage and beliefs have removed them for the battle front – can or should achieve regeneration.

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