Friday, 12 December 2014



I am still mulling over tonight's screening of Testament of Youth. There was a polite ripple of applause at the end. But it fell short of that visceral rage and grief in Vera Brittain's book.
There was a Q&A at the end with the screenwriter and the beautiful Swedish (yes, Swedish) actress who plays Vera. They made a big deal of how they were wary of emotional overkill and melodrama.

And so ...

When Vera gets the telephone call at Christmas telling her that her fiancé Roland has been killed when  she's expecting him home on leave ... they had to go one step further and make out that it was their wedding day.

Although it's true that Vera's brother turned up injured at the hospital where she was nursing, he was tucked up in his pyjamas in hospital in London ... and she didn't simply trip over him in a casualty clearing station at the Front.  

How mawkish is this! Having Vera learn the brutal details of how Roland died in agony, not from his Colonel, but from George Catlin the man she would later marry. Trouble is, it was several years after the war before Vera even met him.
Oh, that last one got me muttering and grumbling. What a crude, clunky, pointless invention. It's not as if the true story is devoid of drama and emotion, is it?

Of course, it looks stunning - the costumes are wonderful - and you couldn't fail to be moved when the camera sweeps across so many rows of stretchers outside a battlefield hospital. But it has a glossy, Pride and Prejudice quality that doesn't pack anything like the punch that I remember from the old BBC adaptation when I was young. (I had a long wallow a few months ago watching it again on YouTube.

10 comments:

lyn said...

Oh no, it sounds just as bad as I feared it would be! I thought the trailer was too pretty & glossy but the examples you've given make me even more irritated. Although most people who see the movie won't have read the book & seen the TV series as many times as we have! The real life events - Vera learning of Roland's death at Christmas, Edward turning up at her hospital - are dramatic enough without needing to wring out the pathos even more. I think I'll just reread the book & watch the series again...

Lucille said...

Why must they mess with the facts? I find that offensive. What must the family feel?

Sue said...

You make me want to watch the tv series which I missed in 1979 being only 14 and as uninterested in stories of interesting women as my 14 year old daughter seems to be now (I have bought her Malala's autobiography in an effort to change her mind).

mary said...

I did have my suspicions having seen the trailer, Lyn. I was tempted to stand up and take them on but it seemed a bit churlish to say how disappointing you find their movie when they're so pleased with it, and also I thought I'd better check my facts as it's many years since I read the book! (It was down from the shelf as I soon as I got home!)
I think I'd give it 6.5 out of 10 on the strength of its good looks!

The actress said she had been to tea at the House of Lords with Shirley Williams, Lucille - and, of course, there must have been permission from VB's estate. But the old BBC series had far more integrity.



mary said...

I was 22 so exactly the right age, Sue! I think it was probably my first encounter with WW1 - we certainly didn't do it at school. I suppose it was in the twilight zone 50 years on before things become 'history.'

Toffeeapple said...

Thank you so much for this, I won't now waste my time and money on going to see it.

I have yet to read the book, but it is planned for 2015.

mary said...

I'm pleased I've seen it, Toffeeapple - and I wouldn't begrudge the cinema ticket - but I did feel that in some important ways it had missed the mark.
Never mind - Stephen Hawking comcing up soon and the trailer for that looks excellent.

Susan D said...

Good heavens, what a shame. I was hoping to hear that it was a decent enough movie, but it sounds like they didn't bother.

Some years I really splurged on the VHS (which is currently on loan to a friend) and may have to buy the DVD, just in case (we're talking the real version, of course)

Thanks for the heads up.

mary said...

I enjoyed it well enough, Susan, just got a bit cross about such needless exaggeration. And the costumes, photography etc are splendid.

GSGreatEscaper said...

Oh no! Well, at least this American need no longer care whether it gets over here. I'll just read the book (et. seq.) and watch the miniseries again.