Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"Testament of Youth" plays the shared-risk issue on British life during WWI, in a memoir of a famous pacifist

Testament of Youth” (directed by James Kent), based on the autobiographical memoir of British pacifist Vera Britain (Alicia Viklander) during World War I.  The film certainly covers the moral area of shared sacrifice, for goals set by politicians and not always valid.
The film opens in the summer of 1914 just after news of the assassination in the Balkans has reached England. Vera wants her own life as an educated woman.  Her father (Dominic West) objects to her writing and gives her a piano, which she rejects.  He scolds, how will you ever find a husband. She pretends to throw her writing out, but gathers it up.
She takes entrance exams for Oxford, and despite writing a critical essay in German rather than Latin, gets in. But soon she has fallen in love anyway, while the World War I patriotism (and eventual draft) calls her fiancé and brother to battle. 
She decides to volunteer as a nurse, and is rebuffed again on many fronts.  The headmistress thinks that some people need to stay home and reflect. That sounds like student deferments! Once on the lines, she gets the usual class warfare lectures from her supervisory nurses. 
And then the war itself gets graphic, will all the wounds, gangrene and amputations. She loses her fiancé, brother and another friend. At one point, the fiancé says he has to go to war because if he doesn’t, others have to.  That’s the “somebody’s gotta do it” argument that drove the military draft here during the Vietnam era.
Official site is here (Sony Pictures Classics).
I saw the film before a fair audience at the AMC Shirlington Monday night.


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