Birdsong

Synopsis

Stephen, in a convalescent hospital in Abbeville, turns down the offer of a desk job in London when he finds that his unit will be moving up to Amiens in preparation for the Somme offensive. He returns to the front and prepares to find Isabelle.

On the eve of the attack, Firebrace receives news that his son has died. As the men gather around Firebrace to comfort him, Stephen looks on from a distance, reliving a memory in which Isabelle angrily tells Jeanne that "Stephen doesn't understand family... The importance of family. That's because he has none." She also reveals that Stephen does not want to have children.

This memory is interrupted suddenly when Stephen sees a woman walking up the street who looks like Isabelle. It is Jeanne, who tells him Isabelle is here in Amiens, in the old Azaire house. When Stephen finally sees her, Isabelle has a long scar on her face — the result of a shelling that destroyed half the house. She will not answer his questions about why she left or why she returned to her husband, and Stephen leaves, hurt and betrayed. The next morning the assault on the Somme begins, and Stephen's unit, like so many others, is decimated.

1918: Two years have passed, and Stephen meets Jeanne in Amiens, only to receive the news that Isabelle is dead. Still trying to cope with this news, Stephen returns to the tunnel with Firebrace and the others, where they realize too late that the Germans have laid explosives under the British trench. Everyone is killed except Stephen and Firebrace, and Firebrace is severely wounded. Stephen carries him on his shoulders as he hunts for a way out, but the main exit has been blocked by debris. Exhausted and despairing, Stephen returns to his last encounter with Jeanne, where she revealed that Isabelle had a child — a daughter named Françoise.

Stephen finds explosives to blast a way out, and Firebrace instructs him on how to set the charge. Stephen wakes up to find German soldiers approaching him — with the news that the war is over. Does Stephen have a reason to stay in France?

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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers

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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers

Stephen is moving slowly through a convalescent hospital in Abbeville. Captain Gray appears with news that Stephen has been promoted to a desk job in London, but Stephen does not jump at the chance to leave the front when Gray reveals that they will be moving up to Amiens in preparation for the Somme offensive. Stephen declines the desk job, to Gray's bafflement, and prepares to find Isabelle.

Back with his unit, and reunited with Captain Weir and Jack Firebrace, Stephen is buoyed by the anticipation of seeing Isabelle and, for the first time, by the comradeship he feels with the two men. He asks Firebrace how his son is doing, and "fingers crossed", Firebrace replies that he's "on the mend." But shortly afterward, on the eve of the attack, Firebrace receives a letter from his wife with a lock of his son's hair: the boy has died. As the men gather around Firebrace to comfort him, Stephen looks on from a distance, wanting to join them but held back by the barriers of class — an officer doesn't fraternize with privates. Stephen follows the men as they go into Amiens and helps to get Firebrace back to the unit after the bereaved man breaks down in his grief.

Stephen relives a memory in which Isabelle, angry when Stephen tells her not to torment herself over a letter from her young stepson Grégoire saying he misses her and asking her to come back, tells Jeanne that "Stephen doesn't understand family... The importance of family. That's because he has none." She also reveals that Stephen does not want to have children.

This memory is interrupted suddenly when Stephen sees a woman walking up the street who looks like Isabelle. He follows her and finds it is Jeanne, who tells him Isabelle is here in Amiens, in the old Azaire house. Jeanne allows him into the house, and when Stephen finally sees her, Isabelle has a long scar on her face — the result of a shelling that destroyed half the house. Stephen realizes that Isabelle went back to René after she left him, but she will not answer his questions about why she left or why she returned to her husband. As Stephen leaves the house, hurt and betrayed, he finds that the red bedroom where he and Isabelle made love has been destroyed by the shelling. The next morning the assault on the Somme begins, and Stephen's unit, like so many others, is decimated. Stephen is injured but returns to his line to find Weir and even the gung-ho Gray aghast at the carnage.

1918: Two years have passed since the Somme offensive, and Stephen is going into Amiens once more to meet Jeanne. But this time she bears the tragic news that Isabelle is dead. Still trying to cope with this news, Stephen witnesses the death of Weir, killed by a single sniper's bullet on the very steps of their dugout.

Soon Stephen is back in the tunnel with Firebrace and the others, only to find that the Germans have beaten them to it: they have laid explosives under the British trench. There is only time to hear their retreating footsteps and process what it means before the explosion. Everyone is killed except Stephen and Firebrace, and Firebrace is severely wounded. Stephen carries him on his shoulders as he hunts for a way out, but the main exit has been blocked by debris. Exhausted and despairing, Stephen returns to his last encounter with Jeanne, where she revealed that Isabelle had a child — a daughter named Françoise. It is his child, and the reason Isabelle left him, fearing that Stephen would not accept the girl because he did not ever want to have children.

In the tunnel, Stephen tells Firebrace "I loved a woman once very much you see. And she loved me..." "What else is there?" responds Firebrace. Stephen tells him that he has a daughter. "Then you have something to live for, sir," Firebrace replies, and Stephen gets up to search for an exit once again. He finds explosives to blast a way out, and Firebrace instructs him on how to set the charge. As Stephen goes to light the charge, Firebrace tells him "My name's Jack. I made a beautiful boy, John. There is nothing more is there? To love and be loved." He dies just before the explosion rips a hole in the tunnel.

Stephen wakes up to find German soldiers approaching him — with the news that the war is over. Stephen buries Firebrace, and returns to Jeanne's house, where Françoise stands at the front door.

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