Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Testament of Youth" (film)

This is what the estimable and amusing Camilla Long had to say about this weepie:
"Testament of Youth is far from perfect, but at least Vera Brittain’s book about her experiences growing up in England as the First World War looms is a decent starting point. This is a slightly shameless attempt to capitalise on last year’s anniversary, but on the whole it’s fairly good stuff.

"Brittain is played by the Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, who is pink and earnest, but never quite manages to be not Swedish. She also looks almost identical to Pippa Middleton, especially in a scene at the end where she poses in a nightdress exactly like the famous Bum Dress from the royal wedding. Unlike Middleton, however, she is principled and furious. She spends a lot of time being angry about really Edwardian things, like pianos.

"In the opening scene, she is horrified that her father (Dominic West) is happy to buy her a piano — amazingly not pronounced pihano — but not a place at university. (Health warning here: this is a film where everyone talks about Oxford all the time. Oxford this, Oxford that. It makes me want to vomit. I can’t work out what is this film’s worse fate: dying in the trenches or not being able to go to Oxford.)

"As it happens, Brittain only wants to go to Oxford out of sheer boredom. She dumps her place almost as soon as her brother and her fiancé, Roland (Kit Harington), sign up for the war. She is deeply in love with Roland. I know this because they meet a) in porticoes and b) amid drying laundry, and c) she doesn’t honk with laughter when he actually tries to fly a kite. Yes, this is a film that uses kites as a metaphor for love. It is the film Downton really longs to be, literary and bluestockingy and full of clichés about “big pushes” and Spanish flu and phone calls that ruin tea.

"Harington is moistly beautiful as Roland, sending Vera poems and announcing, stiltedly, that he has decided not to go to Oxford. I think one of my out-and-out ultimate fantasies is Kit Harington standing in a forest wearing white trousers and shouting “YOU MUST WRITE”. In that sense, at least, this film did not disappoint.

"This is what I call an all-orifices film: there’s bromance, romance, weeping and an awful lot of slushy clucking around field hospitals. There’s a superb cameo by Hayley Atwell as a nurse looking after “filthy Huns”. I could have spent two hours watching a bustling Atwell maliciously changing some jabbering Bavarian’s bedpan. This looks like yet another weepy teatime film. But it’s better than that, and Vikander makes a great Keira Knightley."
Here's Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander, who as noted is from Sweden).

And here's the girl who broke up the (Time Team) band, Mary-Ann Ochota:

So that confused me for a while.

Vera was consumed by grief at twenty minute intervals as her fiancé Roland, male friend Victor and gay younger brother Edward were successively killed by the Hun (all three seemed rather dim to me). Vera does that teary, trembly-lip thing beautifully except you keep thinking: 'acting'. And then towards the end she demonstrates her all-consuming grief by art-house tropes such as decorously sliding into a freezing Buxton pond, and anguishedly smearing herself with freezing Buxton mud on the moors. I tend to imagine that the searing cold and generally unhygienic nature of these emotional excesses would bring a body down to earth pretty rapidly - but what do I know of the searing passions of a feisty 25 year old?

Vera returns to Oxford as the film ends, about to transmogrify herself into a committed pacifist and emotion-charged writer about private loss. Thoughts of self-indulgence briefly passed through my mind as I headed for the exit.