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regeneration

Regeneration

Starring Jonathan Pryce, James Wilby and Jonny Lee Miller
Written by Allan Scott
Directed by Gillies MacKinnon
No Website

IN SHORT:  The British take on war flicks. Well made, but not for Americans.

Let's be honest for a second. Even if you weren't doubled over in emotional pain (like Cranky) from Saving Private Ryan, you'll probably agree that a new benchmark has been set for war movies. Whether that's for better or worse is up to you. That being disposed of, let's take a look at the difference between British and Yank War flicks. We'll use for comparison, the-set-in-WWI Regeneration.

The British like to talk about war. They like to show it's horrors, symbolically. Americans like to see bodies explode. Next.

That may not be fair, as the central cast members of Regeneration actually existed and, as far as I can read press notes, the historical facts are correct. Briefly: Sometime in 1917, upper class medal wearing officer hero, the poet Siegfried Sassoon (James Wilby) decides that the War is wrong, having changed from a "War of Liberation" to a "War of Aggression," and publishes a pamphlet saying so. Had he been from East London, he would've been shot as a traitor, but being an upper class officer, he's shipped off to Craiglockart, a military hospital, to be "persuaded that he is wrong". There's nothing wrong with him, of course, and this is noted by resident psychiatrist Dr. William Rivers (Jonathan Pryce) who represses the contempt he feels for this officer. Rivers himself is on the verge of shell shock of his own kind, having treated thousands of soldiers in the previous years. Other significant characters include the real life Wilfred Owen (Stuart Bunce) who hero-worships Sassoon and wishes to be a poet, like his hero, and lower-class officer material Billy Prior (Jonny Lee Miller) who is mute from his experiences in the battle trenches of France.

The difference between American war movies and British is that the Brits think a wee bit more than we do. Regeneration isn't a blow up the enemy flick, all the characterizations in the movie (indeed, the suggestion of poetry as a manly occupation) are extensions of their love of language. They also have a very well defined class system that is alien to us, and this system a good amount of material for the actors to utilize. The lower budget also means that a great deal of thought went into portraying the horror of the Great War (as it was called) and that culminates in a flashback scene involving a human eye and a human hand that is far more grotesque and upsetting than almost anything in the American movie mentioned above. There's also a very painful to watch demonstration of a "100 per cent cure" of battlefield mutes by the use of electro-shock therapy. You'll recognize John Neville in the role of the doctor who uses pain to repair the broken "fighting units".

Would be Actors can gleam some knowledge here, watching Miller portray the man who's validation is taken away by the medical establishment. And you may try to find the balance between the world of the military and the civilians that surround the hospital, but that would be a difficult task. Other than that, Regeneration is a terribly slow time in the theater. The stories are lost underneath the filmmaker's art. The production values are fine. The opening panoramic view of a battle field is sobering, but Regeneration has the feel of a an elaborate novel crunched into movie time, which it is. All the viewers I sat with checked catches on the way out.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Regeneration, he would have paid . . .

$2.00

I chose to see it because I like Jonathan Pryce's work. But Regeneration moves so slowly and carefully that its 95 minute running time felt like well over two hours. I can't even recommend waiting to rent. It will sink on the arthouse circuit.


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