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A Month in the Country (Penguin Modern Classics)

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For younger bookworms – and nostalgic older ones too – there’s the Slightly Foxed Cubs series, in which we’ve reissued a number of classic nature and historical novels. Funding for the film was scarce, and it eventually fell to Euston Films (a subsidiary of Thames Television) and Channel Four Films, who had had some success with low budget features such as My Beautiful Laundrette. At the same time, Charles Moon - a fellow damaged survivor of the war - has been asked to locate the grave of a village ancestor. The book captures the emotional fallout so well, that sense of turmoil breaking through every now and again – as if it’s always there, bubbling away under the surface.

As I say, Carr’s novel is Birkin’s story, but his finely detailed, finely felt treatment of the other characters as well is a measure of the book’s delicacy, humanity and subtlety. As Birkin uncovers patches of gilt and cinnabar up on his scaffold, Moon digs his pits outside the church walls; both of them are striving for some sort of, if not restoration, then freedom from their past, and for Birkin, at least, his stay at Oxgodby is a time of healing. Rereading the novel for the umpteenth time, I was once again astonished at how much there is in such a short book. It is summer, 1920, and, as Tom Birkin watches, Moon has been digging into the North Yorkshire turf of Oxgodby for several hours, taking his time.Adapted into a 1987 film starring Colin Firth, Natasha Richardson and Kenneth Branagh, A Month in the Country traces the slow revival of the primeval rhythms of life so cruelly disorientated by the Great War. And what Birkin’s left with — some half century later when he is writing this remembrance — is a memory of peace, wonder, something deeply elemental, something deeply beautiful in the art he finds and the place he lived, a still joy and, yes, regret. I felt that if I couldn't do it in the present, suggesting internal pain by performance, then I wouldn't really want to do it at all. For Germans, read the German translation, in some ways it's better than the original, but don't tell the English!

Archaeologist Charles Moon, another survivor of the war, will become Birkin’s first friend as they both immerse themselves in the past and present of the village. The churchyard had several gravestones added, including the large box tomb which is a focus of several scenes. L. Carr, and stars Colin Firth, Kenneth Branagh (in his first credited role), Natasha Richardson and Patrick Malahide.I don’t want to reveal much more about what happens in the novel, other than to give a flavour of some of the keynotes. There is Moon, an archaeologist and fellow veteran of the war, a point that gives him some understanding of Birkin’s mental condition; Alice Keach, the vicar’s beautiful young wife who seems somewhat out of place beside her husband at the vicarage; and the Ellerbecks, a kindly local family who befriend Birkin, providing him with homemade food to supplement his meagre supplies. Desmond Ryan of The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote "Rarely has the impossibility of love been more wrenchingly presented than in the scenes of dashed hope between Firth and Richardson. As well as the bittersweet reverie of looking back across a lifetime at events and people who made up previous life. He knows this is what everyone he meets is thinking: “What befell you Over There to give you that God-awful twitch?

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