Billy Bishop Goes to War is a hard film to classify, but this should hardly be held against it. Part theatre, part musical, part Heritage Moment, Billy Bishop sees director Barbara Willis Sweete take the iconic Canadian stage play to the screen.
As we approach Remembrance Day, it is a fitting rumination on the nature of war, but it also touches on aging, memory, and the nature of storytelling. Eric Peterson (known to many as Oscar Leroy from Corner Gas, but whose stage career has been long and illustrious) and composer John Gray reprise their iconic two-man play, which after premiering in Vancouver in 1978 went on tour internationally (including a run on Broadway), winning the Clarence Derwent Award as well as prizes at the Edinburgh Festival. No small feat for a Canadian stage production in the ’70s. In it, Bishop (Peterson), through song (Gray plays the piano and accompanies on vocals) and story, recalls his time as a pilot in the First World War.
As is the case with many stage-to-movie films, Billy Bishop at times feels, for lack of a better term, staged. But that the film attempts to capture and preserve one of Canada’s most lauded plays—a medium that is, by nature of its performance, ephemeral—is commendable.