1980s War Requiem (1989)

Published on October 21st, 2010 | by Chris


War Requiem (1989)

Reviewed by:
On October 21, 2010
Last modified:October 4, 2012


Take a beautiful piece of classical music, Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem", toss in a healthy dose of opera-ish direction and production, some fine actors, a lot of artistic vision, shake well, and throw in some preachy bits, and you've got War Requiem.

War Requiem (1989)Take a beautiful piece of classical music, Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem", toss in a healthy dose of opera-ish direction and production, some fine actors, a lot of artistic vision, shake well, and throw in some preachy bits, and you've got War Requiem.

Frankly, I wasn't sure what to expect from this. I'm not a particular fan of opera, generally speaking (and the thing I would most compare this film to.)  I'm not sure why, really, I just don't care to watch it. But this intrigued me. And intriguing is probably the best way to describe it.

For one, there is no dialog. Its entirely acted unspoken, a feat which is pulled off terrifically by the likes of Tilda Swinson, Sean Bean, Nathaniel Parker, Laurence Olivier and more. It's sort of an operatic music video if you will.

There are a lot of sequences which are actually quite moving, one which stands out in my mind is the sequence with Bean's character at the checkpoint.... You'll just have to see it.  The way the music is what's guiding the images, simply brilliant....

BUT. And this is a big one. In capital letters. They lost me about half-way through. What started off as an intimate tale of the Nurse losing her love and the subsequent scenes describing how, and through some artistic interpretation that loss was conveyed quite emotionally.....

.... it turned into a slap-in-the-face "All War is Bad, mmKK?" preachy sort of thing, with lots of heavily scored atomic explosions, and kitschy scenes of dead soldiers milling about a pool.... You lost me, and I lost interest, completely. I can't even remember anything after that, because, well, I stopped trying to make sense of it. I think it finally came back around to the Nurse at the end, but I didn't care enough to remember.

I may try and watch this again, when I get the courage and I'm in the right frame of mind. This isn't something you're just going to throw in the player because there's nothing else to watch. You're going to have to work through it. Kind of like Ulysses or The Iliad. There might be a payoff, but you'll have to think (and work) long and hard to get there.

These are just my first impressions upon a first viewing. I'm sure I missed a key point or some little detail that might make it click, but it'll take me a while to get back there.  My rating reflects that, and I may change it if and when that day comes.

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096416/
Amazon: War Requiem (1989)

Here's a trailer, which I'm not sure really conveys the true nature of the film, but its pretty much all I can find....

War Requiem War Requiem
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A stunning visual and serious music treat (Variety), Derek Jarman s (Sebastiane, Jubilee) 1989 War Requiem reunites British cinema s enfant terrible with his muse Tilda Swinton (2008 Oscar Winner for Michael Clayton) for a spectacular and moving interpretation of composer Benjamin Britten s groundbreaking 1961 orchestral masterpiece...

DVD Information

Binding: DVD
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)
Manufacturer: Kino Lorber films
Original Release Date:
  • Laurence Olivier
  • Tilda Swinton
  • Sean Bean


  • Factory sealed DVD


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About the Author

I've been watching war movies for probably 25 years now. Since December 2006 I've been sharing my habit and passion for these movies here on this site.

2 Responses to War Requiem (1989)

  1. Very interesting.I must admit I have never heard of this although I thought I had seen every Derek Jarman movie. Knowing my preferences when it comes to non-war movies I have a feeling I would like this. I am quite sure you need to be in the right frame of mind though. Thanks for this review and making me aware of the movie’s existence… I will watch it.

  2. I finally watched it and posted my review today. Of course I mention that I discovered it thanks to you. Ehre wem Ehre gebührt. I was impressed but it has its annoying moments. Did you see the gruesome actual footage toward the end. Vietnam and Angola. I don’t think it is an opera it is really a silent movie. The overacting etc. plus the music as a background.

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