TESTAMENT OF YOUTH
Director: James Kent
Cert: 12A 129 mins
Leaving us sometimes speechless but not tearless, it provides a welcome alternative to the military-shaped focus of the seemingly endless WWI centenaries. It reminds a new generation of Vera Brittain, a remarkable Christian woman ( in her day, 1893-1970, we would have said ‘lady’). If they ask ‘who?’, we can add that Baroness Shirley Williams is her daughter.
Vera’s Christian faith hardly shows in the film, for in those youthful years she drifted from churchgoing into mystical agnosticism. But at some point she returned to active commitment within the Anglican Church. As a student, I helped organise a meeting where she spoke on a ‘peace’ platform; how I wish I had then known more of her life and writings.
Heartache and beauty
Here is one woman’s unique perspective on the Great War, to which with mixed feelings she cheered her brother and his enlisting friends on their way. But who actually ‘won’? Many know her story; I shall not spoil it for those who don’t by revealing the multiple heartache ahead, but prepare for much beauty too.
Alicia Vikander has been rightly acclaimed for her outstanding role as Vera; some brilliant cameos are played by others well known to film buffs. As with Chariots of Fire, we must allow for scriptwriter Juliette Towhidi’s spin on real life, some mostly defensible invention and a telescoping of history. But the main story-line, like the poems, is absolutely authentic.
Three smaller points: you don’t have to know Oxford, or Camberwell, to be moved by Vera’s struggle to enter, survive and then succeed in such contrasting fortresses of mind and medicine. While there is much anger, blood and guts to face, what a treat to have a major commercial film without foul or blasphemous language; realism with restraint. And you don’t have to share all Vera’s convictions to appreciate these vibrant lives and harrowing scenes; her impromptu speech near the end holds the seeds of the harvest to come. Now you can read the book.