Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
War Requiem (1989)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Contemporary England: a Nurse pushes a wheelchair of an Old Soldier, a World War I veteran. The Old Soldier shows her an Edwardian photograph of a woman, who the Nurse closely resembles. The Old Soldier recounts his war memories.

1918: the Nurse weeps over the dead body of Wilfred Owen. The young Owen and his mother hang out washing, while a young woman arranges a vase of flowers. The adult Owen is recruited and goes to fight in the war.

The Nurse reads 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' over Owen's grave. Owen sits writing at a desk and talking to The Unknown Soldier. Three young children appear, dressed in army uniforms, and bury a teddy bear.

Owen sits on the altar steps and reads Keats' poetry. The Nurse, tending a sick soldier one night in the army hospital, notices a young Owen outside the window. The young Owen plays drums and dances with a group of soldiers in drag against a backdrop of the Union Jack.

In the hospital, nurses play blind man's buff. The Nurse reads out a letter she has just received. Soldiers dig tunnels in the snow. Archive footage of burning cities is projected while a choir sings. Soldiers march over hills. Further wartime archive footage. As nurses prepare fresh bandages, soldiers prepare for another battle.

The Unknown Soldier plays piano while the Enemy Soldier throws snowballs at him. Owen mistakes the Enemy Soldier's behaviour and shoots him. Before he dies, the Enemy stabs the Unknown Soldier with a knife.

The young Owen and his Mother decorate a Christmas tree. The present: the Nurse and the Old Soldier walk as he continues telling his story.

The Unknown Soldier is buried. Owen imagines himself as the biblical Isaac. He is depicted lying on an altar, with his throat slit by Abraham, while a group of grotesque-looking men laugh. Soldiers lie in dark tunnels; archive footage shows a cemetery with cruciform gravestones inscribed, 'British Soldiers'.

The Nurse sits on the steps of Owen's grave, braiding her hair and screaming in despair over the dead poet. Newsreel: burnt tanks and soldiers fighting. The Nurse appears in a white dress, which is now covered in mud and blood. She puts a crown of thorns on the head of the Enemy Soldier, who carries the body of the Unknown Soldier. Footage of conflicts in Cambodia and the nuclear attack on Hiroshima, followed by a large field of skulls.

The Enemy Soldier walks in the tunnels, carrying a poppy wreath. He walks among soldiers holding white crosses. The Unknown Soldier appears as Christ, holding the body of Owen. Owen is buried in the presence of the Nurse and the Mother. The two women place white flowers at the church doors and leave.