War Art with Eddie Redmayne Documentary Review

Who better to host a documentary about War Art than Oscar-winning British actor, Eddie Redmayne OBE.

Who better to host a documentary about War Art than Oscar-winning British actor, Eddie Redmayne OBE. A History of Art graduate from Cambridge University, the actor also played a wounded First World War (WWI) veteran, Stephen Wraysford, in the BBC’s moving adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’s novel, “Birdsong” (2012); a powerful love story set during the intensity of the trenches and Battle of the Somme during WWI.  Regarding preparation for the role the most effective tool, the actor said, was to immerse himself in the art of the era,  “War artists manage to convey intimately what is often beyond description” he notes in this concise and well-informed documentary focusing mainly on war artists of the First World War; artists who often fought themselves risking their lives whilst also recording the horrors of war.  If anyone can talk with insight on the subject Mr. Redmayne can.

Eddie Redmayne immerses himself in the world of WWI by visiting a London costume shop.

One of the most versatile actors working today, Redmayne’s sublime body of work speaks for itself.  Outstanding acting roles include theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in, “The Theory of Everything” (for which he won Best Actor Oscar in 2015),  and the Danish transgender artist Lili Elbe in “The Danish Girl.” Nominated for a Tony Award this year for Best Actor in a Musical for playing the flamboyant Emcee in the musical “Cabaret” by John Kander and Fred Ebb (made famous by Liza Minelli in the 1971 film version) Redmayne is in good company with Daniel Radcliffe (winner), Liev Schreiber, Jessica Lange and Alicia Keys also nominated. Founded in 1947, the Tonys are the most prominent awards in North America celebrating Broadway’s theatrical talent that took place on Sunday 16th June.

Reflecting on the power of war art, the intrepid actor follows in artists’ footsteps to the battlefields of Flanders, the frontline, war cemeteries, and artists’ studios exploring the significance of their work and legacies.  He looks at why war art remains such an important and expressive medium and speaks to war artists practicing today who have worked in conflict zones such as Bosnia and Afghanistan.  It is a thorough and captivating examination with some inspired fact sharing and reportage from Redmayne with valuable input from historians and museum curators.  

“Three-quarters of the casualties that happened during WWI were the consequence of shells and when you see these fragments you realize how butchering and maiming they were,” says Redmayne holding a forbidding, rusty remnant of a shell for viewers to digest.  The actor naturally shares his curiosity and knowledge on the subject without ever preaching or taking center stage.  

Eddie Redmayne looks at artillery shells from WWI.

Going back to the first British war artist, Denis Dighton, who painted the formidable, “The Battle of Waterloo, the Charge of the Second Brigade of Cavalry” in 1815, the documentary gives a comprehensive overview of other British war artists such as Christopher Nevinson and Paul Nash.   Mr. Nash, also a surrealist British painter, was able to capture the aftermath of the first war on nature with his eerie, apocalyptic painting, “We Are Making A New World” depicting a scarred and lifeless landscape devoid of vegetation with shell marks and bulbous mounds of earth.  However, it is not just the British who get a look in here.  There is also mention of Adolf Hitler’s failed attempts to get into art school as well as German war artists.

Eddie Redmayne takes a closer look at Nash’s “We Are Making A New World.”

Masterfully weaving in the journeys of war artists today, Redmayne also speaks to Scottish painter, Peter Howson, an official war artist during the Bosnian war, whose explicit images of war rape have been censored.  

The First World War was a conflict that incurred losses of over sixteen million people.  As well as a stark reminder, this documentary is also a pilgrimage and pays homage to the sacrifices that so many gave during one of the deadliest episodes in twentieth-century history. Watch War Art with Eddie Redmayne on Marquee TV. Please note, this title is not available in the UK. 

In Memoriam.  Lest we forget.

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