As granddaughter of a II World War soldier and that, somehow, was always interested in history, I’m afraid to say this post is one of the most special to me.
Without further ado, I’m going to talk about this movie I watched a while ago – I needed to research for a story I was writing – but fell in love right then; not only for having two actors who are definitely incredible, but because of the sensitivity of a story based in true facts.
About the Movie
Testament of Youth is a British movie from 2014, being a war biographical historic drama, directed by James Kent, with script by Juliette Towhidi, based on the book of I World War memories: Testament of Youth, by Vera Mary Brittain.
The movie had Alicia Vikander as Vera Brittain – an independent young woman who abandoned her studies on the University of Oxford to become a nurse at war. Testament of Youth was released at first in the United Kingdom on the London Cinema Festival in October 14, 2014 and on the big screens in January 15, 2015.
In 1914, Vera Brittain was a British young woman who surpassed the biases against women on professions back then, becoming a student on Somerville College, in Oxford. When the First World War starts, her brother Edward (Taron Egerton), her fiance Roland Leighton (Kit Harington) and her friends Victor (Colin Morgan) and Geoffrey (Jonathan Bailey), are sent to serve in the battle front.
We’ve all studied or heard about that time it was an honour to serve your country – for them, it would be a shame if everyone went and they stayed, even if they weren’t obligated to, once that, because of their age, it wasn’t needed.
After the murder of archduke Franz Ferdinand, starts the First World War. Vera helps to convince her father to allow Edward to join the army instead of studying in Oxford; Roland and Victor also enlist and Roland is the first one to get to the West Front.
As the long lists of victims appear on the newspapers, Vera, as the independent woman she was, follows her own path after many distresses, quitting College to join the Post of Voluntary Aid as a nurse to care for the injuried – being them British and German – in London, Malta and France.
Her friends still see the war as thrilling – after all, they were just children getting to know a new world – but Roland tells Vera of his traumatic war experiences on the front trenches – surprisingly on the same position my greatgrandfather was back on the Second World War.
It’s on this way that he asks Vera to mary him – his fear was so great, he knew he should act soon – and they’d get married during his next leave home.
Roland goes back to France, now with Edward. Roland writes at the end of 1915 that he was given a leave and he is safe from the front. While Vera awaits his return during the Christmass season, Roland’s sister, Claire, tells her during a phone call that he was killed.
The plot goes on with the intention to show how much a war not only destroys material things, but, also, the psychological and families of those who were present – showing that, at the end, everything ends in a way that envolves death or the pain of a mind disturbed from the post-war.
As I mentioned before, as an amateur writer, I always research references before talking about something that isn’t my day to day life. I remember finding the movie and getting interested on it, because of Kit Harington (Game of Thrones) as Vera’s fiance, Rolan. I remember getting surprised on how the plot is delicated and shows how difficult a shaken up emotional state makes everyone’s lives. That without talking about the distress of not knowing immediately if the people you care about are alive or dead.
During many times I heard my greatgrandfather tell me his war stories, on which he even was declared dead for a while. He told me many times about seeing friends and colleagues dying right in front of him, how he had to do the same with people from the enemy lines and how his memories haunted him for the rest of his life, never allowing him to forget those days.
I was always very interested on the theme; I’ve always been interested in knowing the reason behind such disunity and destruction, but I could never understand – because war, in my opinion, has no explanation or foundation.
“Violets from Plug Street Wood,
Sweet, I send you oversea.
(It is strange they should be blue,
Blue, when his soaked blood was red,
For they grew around his head:
It is strange they should be blue.)
Violets from Plug Street Wood
Think what they have meant to me–
Life and Hope and Love & You
(And you did not see them grow
Where his mangled body lay
Hiding horror from the day;
Sweetest it was better so.)
Violets from oversea,
To your dear, far, forgetting land
These I send in memory,
Knowing You will understand.”— Roland Leighton
(Video with the poem above: youtube)
Vera was a woman ahead of her time and remained like that until her death.
Feminist, Pacifist, Nurse and Writer, she brought to the world many of her works that showed her point of view – both as someone who were part of the war as someone who was a victim.
Apart from losing her fiance and friends, her biggest and unsurpassable pain – which made her go ahead with her repudiation about the war – was her brother, who was also her best friend. She could never recover from her brother’s death, Edward, during the I World War and asked that her ashes would be placed on his grave in Asiago, Italy.
“during almost 50 years, my heart stayed on the cemetery of that Italian village”.Translated from Portuguese by Artemis
Vera’s daughter fullfiled her last wish in September 1970.
On the movie, apart from Alicia’s incredible portrayal of Vera, she not only showd the character’s determination, who got on one of the few spaces opened for female students in Oxford, but also her lack of futility.
Brittain wanted to be a writer and never wanted to marry only for being a woman. She didn’t accept her life would be depending only of a man – after all, she was independent and rebelliousness was worth for herself and her freedom.
Vera’s first romance, The Dark Tide (1923) provoked a scandal, once it made a caricature of the teachers on the University of Oxford – specially the ones from Somerville.
In 1933, she published the work that would make her famous: Testament of Youth, that originated the movie we talked about today. Followed by Testament of Friendship (1940) – a tribute and biography of her friend Winfred Holtby – and Testament of Experience (1957), about her own life story between 1925 and 1950.
Vera wrote her romances with feeling and based on her own stories and experiences – not only hers, but also from people she knew.
Her romance Honourable Estate (1936) is an autobiography and based on the failed friendship of Vera with the writer Phyllis Bentley, on her love for the North American publisher George Brett Jr. and on the death of her brother during battle on the First World War.
The diaries of Vera were also published in 1981 with the title Chronicle of Youth.
Testament of Youth is in Memory of:
Roland Leighton 1895 – 1915
Poet and soldier, became posthumously famous by the memories of his fiance Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth.
Victor Richardson 1895 – 1917
British soldier during the Great War, remembered for being immortalized by his friend Vera Brittain.
Geoffrey Thurlow 1895 – 1917
British soldier, Vera’s friend also remembered on the book.
Edward Brittain 1895 – 1918
An officer of the British Army who was killed on the First World War; he was immortalized by his sister Vera Brittain.
And many other soldiers who lost their lives on the wars that our world was already capable of “enduring”.Translated from Portuguese by Artemis
Just like Testament of Youth shows us not only the damages caused on the very own person but also on the people around them, it shows us the importance of having people like Vera Brittain in our society. People who are strongly against wars and know they need to act in order for things with this magnitude to be rejected.
The war doesn’t bring winners,
The war doesn’t bring peace,
The war brings us irreversible losses.
“There seemed to be nothing left in the world, for I felt that Roland had taken with him all my future and Edward all my past.”— Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth
Testament of Youth lives up to this last special week of November we bring here at Lune Station for you. Day of the Unknown Soldier is recognized in November 28 – that’s right, today! And we take today to remember those who left us, with or without being recognized, those who lost their lives at cruel wars and mostly those who lost people to those wars.
The Sisterhood of the Moon dedicate this post for those people; we dedicate our acknowledgements and sincere respects to all those who were victims, that lost their lives too soon, who were war prisioners, to those who survived and mostly those who lost their loved ones.