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G. N. Hobson

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Testament of Youth [Blu-ray] [2015]
Testament of Youth [Blu-ray] [2015]
Dvd ~ Alicia Vikander
Price: £8.00

9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Giving false testimony, 25 April 2015
The trailer invites us to ‘witness the true story’ but this semi-fictionalised account of Vera Brittain’s war years does little to honour its pledge. Here are some of the film’s most egregious solecisms:

• Vera and Roland Leighton had made no explicit plans to marry during his leave at Christmas 1915.

• Vera did not discover Edward in the midst of corpses whilst nursing at Étaples in 1917. Brother and sister never met on active service. Edward was transferred to the Italian Alps soon after Vera’s arrival on the Western Front. The scriptwriter, Juliette Towhidi, eschews the genuine happenstance of Edward’s removal to Camberwell, where Vera was nursing, after being wounded on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

• The narrative careers precipitately from the return of Roland’s personal-effects to Keymer, West Sussex in January 1916 to Vera’s visit to blinded Victor Richardson in May 1917, excising her time nursing in Malta. Towhidi has referred to this period as ‘dead space in a film’. Yet, here Vera found, as biographer Mark Bostridge writes, ‘a strangely reinvigorating affirmation of life’. Here, also, Vera received two telegrams within an hour, informing her that Victor’s eyesight was ‘hopelessly gone’ and Geoffrey Thurlow had been killed in action. What could have been a veracious and vivid conjuncture on screen has been expunged. Perhaps the film’s limited funding of £7 million dictated that a virtue be made from the necessity of confining filming to the UK.

• Geoffrey Thurlow is barely discernible. His death, in April 1917, is not even mentioned. He seems solely to be a device for emphasising Edward’s homosexuality. However, no indubitable evidence has entered the public domain, so far as I am aware, to confirm (or refute) the inference that Geoffrey was homosexual. Vera clearly had him in mind as a possible future husband and wrote on 4 May 1917, ‘Often I have wondered what it would all lead to - & I suppose now I shall go on wondering to the end’. A sequence filmed, but not included in the final cut, depicts the evolution of their friendship.

• A wounded officer, present at Roland’s death, is introduced as ‘George Catlin’. Thus, we are handed the ridiculous conceit that Vera’s future husband bore witness to the death of her prospective husband. In reality, George Catlin arrived too late to see active service on the Western Front and did not meet Vera in person until 1924. Self-evidently, he never met Roland. This incident is in particularly poor taste as George Catlin did not wish to be identified in ‘Testament of Youth’ and is referred to as ‘G’.

The actors acquit themselves well within the screenplay’s limitations but this film has little subtlety. Whether it be the aforementioned maudlin episode at Étaples, Roland’s overly familiar manner on arrival at the Brittain’s home, Joanna Scanlan’s comedy turn as ‘Aunt Belle’ or a bizarre tableau in which Vera smears herself with mud, nuance is a quality that writer and director seem to have little consciousness of. It even extends to the filming locations; the more palpably ‘gothic’ Trinity and Balliol supplanting Vera’s alma mater, Somerville and the vertiginous cliffs of Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire providing an improbable proxy for low lying Lowestoft.

The BBC paid admirable tribute to Vera Brittain and her four friends in its 1979 television adaptation. This inadequate new interpretation underscores what an extraordinarily accomplished dramatisation it was.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 30, 2015 10:54 PM BST

YPRES: The Immortal Salient, Part 1 [DVD]
YPRES: The Immortal Salient, Part 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ed Skelding
Price: £14.83

14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An auspicious start to the journey, 12 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Readers with an interest in the Great War may have purchased some titles in the 'Battleground' imprint of Pen & Sword. To complement this series of books, the publishers have embarked on an intriguing new enterprise with historian and film maker Ed Skelding, who produced the excellent three part series 'Great Battles of the Great War' for Tyne Tees TV, to describe on film many of the battles that took place along the Western Front. The first two instalments (vol.2 is scheduled to appear at the end of June) deal with the Ypres sector.

For those who have visited Ypres, immediate pleasure will be had at seeing the Grote Markt and Menin Gate which preface the tour. Ed Skelding, who magnanimously adopts the role of ingenuous inquisitor of 'Battleground' series editor and 'guest historian' Nigel Cave, then takes the viewer to key points associated with the first and second battles of Ypres. Mr Cave, who I have never seen in a presentational role before, is clearly a natural before the camera and the two men have an easy rapport which will keep the viewer engaged. This is good honest documentary making; no voice-overs by Jeremy Irons or Judi Dench, no dramatic recreations of 2nd Ypres by half a dozen extras. Purely two presenters conveying their extensive knowledge of their subject in an accessible style to the viewer. The film will serve those well who wish they could spend more time in Flanders and encourage those who have not yet made the journey to do so.

Those considering making a purchase should note that the publishers have made some late amendments to both the volume title (now 'Ypres -The Slaughter of the Innocents 1914-1915') and the content, which differs from that which appears in the accompanying product description. The story of the RAMC and John McCrae and Essex Farm do not feature on this first DVD. In place, Ed Skelding visits Talbot House in Poperinge.

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