Testament of Youth is a very moving film and we showed it on wet November night that was just right for the viewing. It was our first experience of our brand new equipment, new projector, blu ray etc and we were delighted by it.
The Film was actually released as part of the World War One Commemorations. This is the story of our grandfathers and great grandfathers and its based on Vera Brittains memoir Testament Of Youth, which many of you will have read. The book was first published in 1933, to great acclaim. It was subsequently re published by VIrago in 1978.
You might wonder why not sooner, why not publish just after the War? But it was not until 1933 that Vera Brittain could work out how to write it, she’d tried a novel, tried a letters and journal form, but it was not till 1933 that she could find an appropriate way to express her experiences. She wrote it as a memoir and she went on to write testament of Friendship and Testament of Experience after that.
What is seminal about Testament of Youth is the fact that it stands alone a s a woman’s experiences of WW1. There were lots of accounts written by men, Edmund Blunden, Sassoon, Graves but nothing that tells us what women went through during that dark period. That makes it unique.
Vera Brittain did find a way forward, after her experiences and she did marry in 1925, and had two children, one of whom is the Liberal Democrat peer Shirley Williams. What was great for the film was that Shirley Williams helped on the set of the film and spent time with the actress Aliia Vikander, helping her to understand and accurately represent her mother.
A first full length feature film for James Kent and what an achievemnt it is! He was already an experienced documentary film maker and Tv director . He had seen the TV series , of Testament of youth in 1979 and he had been very arrested by it. His friend Juliette Towhide wrote the script and he says he felt very lucky to be able to direct this new film version. He also had the invaluable support of Mark Bostridge who wrote the biography of Vera Brittain.
Its hard to get your head around a world where women could not normally go to university and where even if they did, like Vera, who was one of the first group to go to Oxford, that they could not take a degree!! And then of course it was even more radical to leave that university and go and wok in the field hospitals in France in the war!
Huge praises go to Alicia Vikander- hardly ever seen before, one film credit to her name, and no doubt she is going to go on to a great career! James Kent said, “ we needed a remarkable actress to captture the range and complexity of Vera. Alicia has a great ability to express a wide range of emotions and she has a lot of discipline and a lot of grit. All Vera Brittain qualities!
I discovered an amazing local note! Kit Harrington, who plays Roland, was at school at the Chantry and in school productions there and at Worcester Sixth Form College where he studied Drama d Theatre Studies! He was in the TV series Games of Thrones, So Testament was a very different kind of challenge for him. All the actors worked very very hard and the extras were Afghan veterans , from the Agency Amputees in Action.
The film settings are faithful to the book, London , Oxford , Uppingham School, and for railway buffs, the stations and interiors were shot at Keithley Railway station, the trains were from the Worth Valley Railway and the landscape shots are taken from the heritage track of the North York Moors Railway.
It has to be said, this film is NOT a dusty piece of history, its a fresh , personal and very moving testimony that speaks across the decades.
This is the week that we decide whether to bomb in Syria and extend the war . This made it a more than fitting time to show this particular film. As Mark Bostridge had said of 1914, “It is all too easy for governments to drift into war…it imposes a terrible cost…we did go into Vietnam, we did go into Iraq..” Vera Brittain showed the terrible cost of such decisons .