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Testament of Youth: The ‘Great War’ from a Woman’s Angle

Testament of Youth: The ‘Great War’ from a Woman’s Angle

The tragedy of World War One and how it robbed England of a
generation of bright young men is recreated from a woman’s point of view in The Testament of Youth. Based on a
best-selling memoir by Vera Brittain, published in 1933 and dramatized for
British television in 1979, it’s fresh fodder for an American audience and presented
in a manner that is forthright without ever lapsing into cliché. Some cynics
may dismiss it as Masterpiece Theatre
fodder, but Brittain’s story offers substance and surprise, as interpreted by
screenwriter Juliette Towhidi and director James Kent. And if there is nothing
particularly revolutionary in their approach, the story is solid and especially
well cast. Girl-of-the-moment Alicia Vikander (currently onscreen in Ex Machina) is an earnest and credible
heroine, and Kit Harington (from Game of
Thrones
) is equally effective as one of the male leads. With actors like
Dominic West, Emily Watson, and Miranda Richardson filling out the supporting
cast, it’s hard to go wrong.

Brittain is an independent-minded young woman who struggles
to make a place for herself in a man’s world. She battles her father’s
old-fashioned ideas and manages to be accepted to Oxford, where her professor
(Richardson) cuts her no slack. Then war erupts. With the men nearest and
dearest to her (including her brother) volunteering for what everyone agrees
will be a quick assignment, she abandons her academic career to be of use
behind the lines—even though there is no guarantee that she will be able to
resume her academic career later on.

Vera Brittain is not a plaster saint: she’s a modern woman
who wants to be of use and can’t justify burying herself in books when men are
fighting and dying just across the Channel. This singular story makes The Testament of Youth immediate and
relevant, even as it ticks the expected boxes under the category of “historical
romance.”

I enjoyed watching this handsome production, which provides
timely reminders of the extraordinary sacrifices men and women made during the
“war to end all wars,” exactly one century ago.

        

 

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