Regeneration

on August 14, 1998 by L. J. Strom
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   "Regeneration" is a thoughtful period drama that delicately probes the psychological fallout of the First World War. Based on Pat Barker's novel, it explores the experiences of poet-soldiers Wilfred Owen (Stuart Bunce) and Siegfried Sassoon (James Wilby); a working class lad who's risen through the ranks, Billy Prior (Jonny Lee Miller); and William Rivers (Jonathan Pryce), the military doctor who treats them. Rivers' job is to help the men cope with the horrors of battle so they can be returned to the very war that drove them mad in the first place. He's confronted by a further challenge with Sassoon: The outspoken writer is clearly quite sane, but he's made a public statement condemning the war, so his superiors have packed him off to the "loony bin" to discredit him. Faced with exorcising Prior's demons as well as the moral issues in trying to convince Sassoon to recant, Rivers edges dangerously close to shellshock himself.
   The period detail is impeccable, from corpse-strewn battlefields seen in flashback to the somber Scottish castle adapted for use as a mental hospital. The cast, too, is uniformly flawless. Miller fairly bristles as the angry young Prior; Wilby effortlessly embodies Sassoon's principled charisma; and Pryce is particularly affecting as the sensitive doctor who's quietly but visibly coming unglued.
   But the film finally diffuses its own impact by splitting its focus amongst multiple protagonists, moving a little too briskly between men whose stories, though heavily intertwined, are nevertheless different.
   Just as Rivers displays symptoms of nervous fatigue without manifesting a full-blown breakdown, so the film touches on feelings and important questions without coming to much of a catharsis on any of them. Presented as we are with such potentially compelling characters in what ought to be a terribly emotionally charged situation, it's hard not to wish for a more deeply felt climax.    Starring Jonathan Pryce, James Wilby and Jonny Lee Miller. Directed by Gillies Mackinnon. Written by Allan Scott. Produced by Allan Scott and Peter R. Simpson. An Alliance release. Drama. Rated R for war-related violent images, and some sexuality and language. Running time: 95 min.
Tags: Jonathan Pryce, James Wilby and Jonny Lee Miller. Directed by Gillies Mackinnon. Written by Allan Scott. Produced by Allan Scott and Peter R. Simpson. An Alliance release. Drama, impeccable, doctor, fatigue, psychological
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