TV review: Young Men – BBC Two (4 stars)

BalletBoyz acclaimed stage show about World War I is transformed into a moving and atmospheric new film

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TV Review: Young Men, BBC Two

Ever since former Royal Ballet dancers Michael Nunn and William Trevitt founded their own dance company in 2001, film has played a pivotal role. From witty curtain-raisers before performances to documentary shorts, the duo has captured dance both backstage and in front on many occasions.

So it stands to reason that Trevitt and Nunn's latest project, an hour-long film depicting life during World War One, is a polished, powerful piece that gives equal weighting to both dance and filmmaking.

Young Men takes us behind the statistics to the ordinary people who left behind their families and sweethearts to fight for their country. We see them in basic training, struggling to keep up with the barked orders of an unhinged officer, taking out his own self-loathing on the most vulnerable new recruit.

Then it's off to the trenches, where the dank darkness is broken up only by the sudden bursts of artillery fire that illuminate the sky. The camaraderie that carries the men through these appalling conditions pushed to the limit, when one soldier develops PTSD (or shell shock, as it was known in those days).

A brief moment of stillness and calm by a riverbank rejuvenates the soldiers just long enough for them to be ripped apart on the battlefield.

All of which lends itself perfectly to dance. From the repetitive choreography of the training drill, to the arched backs and thrown out legs of a human body fired at by mortar, the movement says it all without the need for a single word to be spoken. Especially during the closing scene, when a post-war relationship demonstrates how life – even for those who survived - was never the same again.

Both Nunn as director and Trevitt as director of photography capture the beauty of the landscape (it was shot on location in northern France) and the harsh realities of war. It's messy, muddy and chaotic, with the outside environment often mirrored in the men's minds and thousand-yard stares.

Keaton Henson's score, performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra, is packed with drama and pathos, choreographer Iván Pérez harnesses the dancers' athleticism and vulnerability equally, yet never veers into sentimentality. While the dancers themselves, male and female, prove themselves to be as consummate at acting as they are at movement.

Young Men is on BBC Two, Sat 12 Nov, 8.30pm

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