As well as being a stunning visual and serious music treat, War Requiem is probably avant garde British director Derek Jarman’s most mature effort. Pic is a visualization of Benjamin Britten’s oratorio and was financed through the BBC’s Independent Planning Unit on a budget of just £650,000. It was shot and released in the UK within a staggeringly short three-month period.
War Requiem has no dialog, though it opens with Laurence Olivier reciting Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Strange Meeting’. Olivier also appears in cameo as an old soldier tended by a young nurse (Tilda Swinton). The live-action footage is intercut with documentary footage from the Imperial War Museum.
Pic uses the story of Owen’s experiences in World War I, up to his death by a sniper bullet one week before the war ended, as its structure, while a nurse and unknown soldier are introduced to supplement Britten’s musical scenarios. Nathaniel Parker as tortured poet Owen and Swinton (a Jarman regular) as the nurse are excellent. The soundtrack is the original recording of the work, composed for the re-opening of Coventry Cathedral in 1962.