One of the so-called "new" directors who appeared in the 1970s in Britain. Cinema career began when Ken Russell asked him to design sets for his films "The Devils" and "Savage Messiah." DJ makes films in which magic and spectacle play a considerable role and often deals with theme of groups of characters isolated in a bleak scene. Focuses upon power relationships between individuals (political and sexual). As an openly gay filmmaker DJ regards living in a society in which gays are discriminated against "like being in a war":

It's like being in a war. I love William Burrough's idea of picking up the guns, and of going out and creating the gay state, and shooting 'them' down so we can live in a society untrammelled by all this prejudice. What would you think if I raised the age of consent to 21, imprisoned and beat up heterosexuals for kissing in the street, outlawed the promotion of heterosexuality, illegalized marriage, and had the church of England preach celibacy? You'd soon wake up to the intolerable world. The anger in my films is totally justified. My films try to be as open as possible, but I resent having to go into an attack position. I wanted to be a traditional film-maker, and have a quiet time. But I know what it is like to live under a totalitarian regime. (Interview in Hacker and Price, p. 256)

Films include "In the Shadow of the Sun" (1974); "Sebastiane" (1976) about the Christian martyr S killed by the Romans and often erotically depicted in Renaissance art, with dialogue in Latin; "Jubilee" (1978) about London in the future terrorised by punk gangs; "The Tempest" (1979) his adaptation of the play by Shakespeare; "Angelic Conversation" (1985); "Caravaggio" (1986); "The Last of England" (1987); "Aria" (1988); "Edward II" (1992); Wittgenstein (1994). DJ has also made a number of short films and pop videos.


The Music

The Traditional Latin Reqiuem Mass

The definition offered by The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, ed. John Owen Ward (Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 479:

The word is generally used as meaning the Mass for the Dead (Missa pro defunctis), which begins with the introit, 'Requiem aeternam'. The text is much the same as that of the the normal Mass, but with the more joyful parts (e.g. the Gloria in excelcis and the Credo) omitted.

The opening line is "Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis" (Lord, grant them eternal rest; and let the perpetual light shine upon them).

Benjamin Britten (1913-76)

War Requiem, Opus 66: In loving memory of Roger Burney, Piers Dunkerley, Michael Halliday. Latin text from "Missa pro defunctis." Poems by Wilfred Owen (1962).

BB was a life-long pacifist. At school in Lowestoft in final year tried to stamp out bullying of younger boys. Wrote an essay attacking cruelty to animals. Also refused to join Officer Training Corps. Active in peace groups during the 1930s - wrote propaganda for magazines and incidental music for pacifist films. During WW2 had to argue his case before Tribunal for the Registration of Conscientious Objectors. Commissioned to write a piece to commemorate the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral in 1962 (destroyed in 1940). Good occasion to express his opposition to war and destruction it caused (such as cathedrals in WW2 in both England and Germany). Wrote the piece with hope that at first performance soloists could be an Englishman (Peter Pears), a German (Dietrich Fischer-Diskau), and a Russian (Galina Vishnevskaya). Russian could not appear at first performance but did at recording. Piece dedicated to 4 of BB's friends who died in WW2. First performed 30 May 1962 at festival in Coventry Cathedral. Took some courage to intersperse latin requiem mass with 9 of Wilfred Owen's poems sung by soloists - combination of oratorio and song-cycle. Poems sung alternately by German and Englishman. Requiem soon performed by all leading concert societies. 1963 recording sold over 200,000 copies in 5 months. Other "peace pieces" included more severe Cantata misericordium composed in 1963 for the centenary of the founding of the Red Cross. Opera for television in two acts Owen Wingrave first shown on BBC2 16 May 1971. Opera commissioned by BBC in 1966. Based on Henry James short story "Owen Wingrave" (1892, later made into one act play The Saloon, 1907). About young man from old military family who refuses to follow father's footsteps and join army. Rebels against family but takes his own life as a protest. BB through medium of opera is able to make an uncompromising denunciation of war and passionate plea for peace.

The Poetry: Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Born in Shropshire and educated at the University of London. Private tutor to a French family near Bordeaux 1913-15. Volunteered to fight but invalided out in 1917 to war hospital where a fellow patient Siegfried Sasson encouraged him to write poetry. Sent back to the front but killed one week before armistice. Sassoon collected WO's poems and published them 1920. WO avoided heroic and romantic attitude to war of Rupert Brooke. WO stressed humanity and horror of war. He is bitter without trace of self-pity and his use of metaphor is striking. Strong contrast with EMR (working class and German) as WO educated middle class Englishman who went straight into army as officer. In letters to friends he complains of it being so cold at front that the Perrier water froze in the bottle. WO also came to reject sentiments expressed by Latin proverb "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori". Compare with EMR's comments about teacher Kantorek. Gas attack similar to that shown in 1979 version of AQWF. Preface to his poems. Shares EMR's sense of a lost and hopeless generation:

I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful. (Quoted in Michael Kennedy, Britten, p. 78.)

Poems used in Britten's War Requiem (First lines and Titles)
  • What passing bells... "Anthem for a Doomed Youth"
  • Bugles sang... "Bugles Sang"
  • Out there... "The Next War"
  • Be slowly lifted up... "Sonnet"
  • Move him into the sun... "Futility"
  • So Abram rose... "The Parable of the Old Man and the Young"
  • After the blast... "The End"
  • One ever hangs... "At a Calvary near Ancre"
  • It seemed that out of battle... "Strange Meeting"
"Dulce et Decorum Est" (The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen, ed. C. Day Lewis, p. 55.)
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
GAS! GAS! Quick boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light.
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.



  • Wilfred Owen - Nathaniel Parker
  • The Nurse - Tilda Swinton
  • Old Soldier - Laurence Olivier
  • Mother - Patricia Hayes
  • Enemy Mother - Rohan McCullough
  • Abraham - Nigel Terry
  • Unkown Soldier - Owen Teale
  • German Soldier - Sean Bean
  • Blinded Soldier - Alex Jenning
  • Charge Sister/Britannia - Claire Davenport

Made soon after DJ diagnosed HIV positive. In a review of another of Jarmn's films (Edward II) Thomas Prasch observed that:

War Requiem... underlines the homoerotic elements of military camaraderie and of Owen's aestheticization of trench warfare, while inserting and AIDs-aware subtext of exchanged blood.

Could view his "War Requiem" as a "pop video" made for a piece of classical music. Or as a silent film with BB's music as background. Film combines four things: the poetry of Wilfred Owen, the traditional Latin requiem mass for the dead (traditional expression of mourning), Benjamin Britten's music and the images selected by Derek Jarman. Loosely based on the life of WO. Laurence Olivier appears as old soldier in nursing home (one of his last film appearances before his death).

Most approachable of Jarman's films - due to popularity of Britten's musical piece, widespread interest in Owen's war poetry.


Handout by Katharine Thornton on Jarman's War Requiem (1995).

Thomas Prasch, Review of Edward II, in American Historical Review, 1993, vol. 98, no. 4, p. 1165.

Jonathan Hacker and David Price, Take Ten: Contemporary British Film Directors (Oxford, 1991).

Benjamin Britten, Owen Wingrave , Op.85 (1970).

Libretto by Myfanwy Piper, "Owen Wingrave. An Opera in Two Acts, in The Operas of Benjamin Britten, ed. David Herbert (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1979), pp. 329-350.

Michael Kennedy, Britten (London: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1981), "War requiem," pp. 74-80.

Henry James, "Owen Wingrave" (1892) in The Complete Tales of Henry James, ed. Leon Edel, volume 9 "1892-1998" (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1964), pp. 13-51.

The Britten Companion, ed. Christopher Palmer (London: Faber and Faber, 1984). John Evans, "Owen Wingrave: A Case for Pacifism," pp. 227-37.


1. The use of exerpts of documentary film on WW1, bombed out cities, newsreels, TV of Vietnam, Afganistan, WW2, WW1, Africa, nuclear weapons.

2. The use of "home movies".

3. The religious symbolism - the flickering candle, tolling of the bell, corpses laid out for burial, breaking bread, Christmas tree, crucifixes, communion, the sacrificial lamb, crown of thorns, blessing.

4. The character of the nurse (compare Vera Brittain?) to whom WO writes his letters or poems. Her grief at the loss of her loved one in battle. The scenes of military hospitals.

5. The snow fight or "battle" between WO and the German soldier who is "accidently" shot.

6. The child playing with war toys (flags, castles)

7. Poppies.

8. Jarman's use of war as metaphor for gay men living in an oppressive heterosexual society.