A slightly dramatic (I’m still raging) Testament of Youth review

My film edition of the book before and after seeing the film (thank the lizards for collage)
My film edition of the book before and after seeing the film (thank the lizards for collage)

I don’t have a problem with filmmakers making changes for the screen (it’s a different medium and requires a different kind of storytelling) and I generally have a perverse tendency to love adaptations more than the books (Atonement, Brideshead Revisited, Fight Club etc) but the changes made here cut the heart and soul from the story. Emphasis is placed on her romance with Roland, every scene is overdone and takes shortcuts to easy sentimentality. It’s beautifully shot but the First World War isn’t a picture postcard. Her time as a nurse felt glossed over (losing the honesty with which she wrote about her experiences) and wasn’t nearly as brutal as it should have been (I’m assuming the filmmakers were aiming for the 12A classification they got). The film doesn’t do Brittain’s personality justice at all; her voice, her presence, isn’t anywhere to be found. She comes across as privileged, whiny, doe-eyed, teary and swept up by circumstance. The scene near the end where she speaks at a public meeting makes it seem as if it was impromptu and the speech itself is naïve and simply calls on her experience and none of her impressive learning. There was no mention of her involvement as a speaker with the League of Nations either here or in the information at the end. Her strength, actions, intelligence, political involvement, and feminism are completely undermined by this film.

Brittain’s memoir is so important that it should have been approached with a sense of great responsibility or at the very least with strong artistic integrity. I came out of the cinema bored, disappointed and angry. To take this wonderful book and reduce it to such sentimental mediocrity is a crime.

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