Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Gillies MacKinnon

REVIEWED: 10-05-98

Set in Scotland in 1917 at the end of World War I, Regeneration is a thoughtful war drama that focuses on the moral consequences of war and its psychological toll. Based on the Booker Prize-winning author Pat Barker's 1991 novel, the film tells the story of three soldiers and the psychiatrist who treats them at Craiglockhart Hospital, which specializes in restoring shell-shocked soldiers to good mental health and returning them to the battlefield, if at all possible. With great sensitivity, Jonathan Pryce (Evita, Carrington) plays Dr. William Rivers, a pioneering psychiatrist feeling his way through the profession's infancy and treating his patients with whatever common sense he can apply. He is clearly feeling the impact of his close involvement with his patients' terrors as he practices his talking cures and is dismayed by his colleagues' more invasive shock treatment methods. He questions the validity of taking already fragile minds and making them insane enough to want to go back to the front. The eminent poet and war hero Siegfried Sassoon (Wilby, most recognizable from his star turn in Maurice) is sent to the hospital because he has had a change of heart about the war and has written a pamphlet that denounces its shift from a war of liberation to one of aggression. He is given the choice of being court-martialled or being sent to the madhouse. While there he meets another budding poet, Wilfred Owen, whose work Sassoon encourages and steers toward realistic coverage of the war. Another patient at the hospital is Billy Prior (Miller -- Sick Boy in Trainspotting), a soldier who has gone mute from the horrors he's seen on the battlefield. The depiction of the turmoil of these true historical figures is challenging to witness. Regeneration is a film of ideas and ideologies and, interestingly, it has been given an American release in this season of our renewed interest in the war film genre. The script by Allan Scott is intelligent and provocative, however, the film's dramatic pull fails to involve the viewer at any deep level. The storyline skips evenly among these four interesting characters but never lights on any one dramatic conflict or character as its central focus. It may be a futile search for heroes in a movie that questions the very validity of heroes. Yet it remains that Regeneration is a war film that engages us at a mostly conceptual level rather than a visceral one. This anomaly is also what makes it a particularly distinctive work.

--Marjorie Baumgarten

Capsule Reviews

Other Films by Gillies MacKinnon
Hideous Kinky

Film Vault Suggested Links
The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc
Les Miserables

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