Oh, what a lovely PWHOAR! As a scrummy Old Etonian stars in TV’s adaptation of Birdsong, JAN MOIR swoons at the torrent of toff totty on screen
Step forward Captain Wraysford, and let me pin this special medal onto your chest.
For services rendered to the viewing public of this country, for providing pleasure above and beyond the call of duty, you are hereby awarded this gold star for gorgeousness, for being the kind of endlessly noble, serge-wearing, dandy eye-candy that warms the heart on a cold Sunday night in winter.
And while we are dishing out the gongs, there is one for you, too, Captain Gray, with your natty moustache and your commanding ways.
One for Weir the engineer, snug in his hand-knitted sweater and delicious Scottish accent. One for Firebrace, the decent and brave tunneller with his face — literally — pressed right up against the horror of war.
Dandy eye-candy: Eddie Redmayne, takes the lead role of Captain Stephen Wraysford in Birdsong
And lots more for you at the back with
the nice smile, you looking cute in your mud-stained puttees, you,
soldier, taking the scant refuge available among the sandbags as the
shells crump all around.
Yes, the BBC’s long-awaited adaptation of Birdsong, the celebrated novel about World War I by Sebastian Faulks, began last night.
The first of two 90-minute films (part two will be shown next Sunday), the adaptation is already a resounding triumph. The best and worst of human experience, the aching horror of war contrasted with the passion and stolen embraces of forbidden love fulfilled.
It was all here, exactly as millions who have read and loved the book will remember.
For not only is Birdsong one of Britain’s favourite novels, it is also a set text in both history and English courses across the country. Its chapters are now sewn into the fabric of our nation, just like the fates of all those who took part in that terrible conflict.
It is a book about sons, Faulks once said. Ten million of them killed on the Western Front for no reason — and also about the grief of 20 million parents. No one who has read the book or seen this film could fail to be moved.
So far, so fascinating. However, now that this television adaptation by Working Title has finally been broadcast to much acclaim, permit me to lower the tone and add another note to the Birdsong chorus of approval.
Which is this. Phwoar! Don’t you think the cast who play the soldiers battling it out on the small screen are just ridiculously handsome Most of them are unspeakably dishy, not least of all Eddie Redmayne, the 30-year-old who takes the lead role of Captain Stephen Wraysford.
The actor, who recently starred in the film My Week With Marilyn, looks slightly younger than his years but does a really nice line in Captain Wraysford’s moody inner turmoil; unleashing no end of glassy-eyed, middle-distance stares as the novel, and now the screenplay, demands. Indeed, for much of the first episode of Birdsong, he looks like a newly hatched but rather troubled speckled egg.
From left: Hot to trot: Tom Hiddleston, Pip, Pip hooray! Douglas Booth, Downton dish: Dan Stevens
And in the hell of the trenches, he is not popular with the men. ‘He’s a cold bastard,’ complains one. In the living rooms of this country, I suspect he is far more popular with viewers who appreciate his eldritch good looks and pale-eyed depiction of loves won and lost, passions checked and duties done.
The odd thing is that Redmayne is only one of a new breed of super-posh and privileged young actors now taking the profession by storm.
Where have they all come from, these floppy-haired boys with their good teeth, excellent complexions and impeccable connections Why do they all appear to have green eyes and cheekbones like flying buttresses
Is it something they put in the water at Eton and the other public schools where they have been educated It used to be that our plays, films and television dramas were crammed full of gritty and gruff northern blokes who could stand up a spoon in their tea and had jaws like horseshoes and shoes like schooners.
He-men hunks such as Daniel Craig and Sean Bean have been creaming off all the top jobs for years. Now, hot on their heels comes a battalion of fresh-faced thesps who went to the best schools — and are taking the best roles.
Redmayne went to Eton, just like his associate Tom Hiddleston, the 29-year-old who, coincidentally, is also currently making waves in a WWI drama. Hiddleston is one of the two- legged stars of Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of War Horse.
He plays Captain Nicholls, the cavalryman who rides Joey into battle against the Germans and who has promised to look after the horse and return him safely to England, if possible. Gulp.
Where have they all come from, these floppy-haired boys with their good teeth, excellent complexions and impeccable connections
Eton was once reputed to be the breeding ground for prime ministers and sundry world leaders. Now it appears to be setting the pace for a new order of future Oscar winners and film stars. Recent years have seen great success for old boys such as Dominic West and Damian Lewis.
Now, in addition to Redmayne and Hiddleston, other Old Etonian actors making a name for themselves including Harry Lloyd (seen recently in The Iron Lady), Henry Faber (who’s just landed the lead role in the BBC’s forthcoming adaption of Henry IV) and Harry Hadden-Paton (soon to be seen in BBC’s Richard II.)
The wealthy families who send their sons there must have hoped — at the very least — for jobs in boardrooms and Westminster. Look at the Government front-bench — Old Etonians are packed like sardines next to their Old Etonian leaders, David and George.
However, despite the keenest parental ambitions, the school’s energetic theatre department keeps turning out film stars instead. And really, given the current economic climate and problems, acting is beginning to look like a pretty solid and safe career.
And while they might not have gone to the top school, other floppy-haired, slightly posh thesps doing well at the moment include the tingle-tastic Dan Stevens, who stars as Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey, and the extraordinary Benedict Cumberbatch, who has wowed fans with his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes and is also a khaki-clad officer in War Horse.
Let us also not forget Douglas Booth, who recently starred as Pip in the new BBC adaptation of Great Expectations — a straightforward heartthrob in the traditional style.
Elsewhere, there is Freddie Fox in The Mystery Of Edwin Drood, Jamie Campbell Power in Camelot and no end of stylish, fine-boned, pixie-faced young men on our screens who all look as if they should be wearing skinny shirts and being moody and sulky in Burberry ads — that is because most of them have.
For the moment, however, Eddie Redmayne as troubled Captain Wraysford remains the Old Etonian to beat. His eyes are matching pools of distress. No one can do picturesque worry or soulful despair quite like him. For the moment, Sunday nights are his.