Women and war

On International Women’s Day, let’s think back to what they used to do. We finally made it to see the film based on Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, which is a favourite of mine. I was pleased to see the other week that the appearance of the film made the book pop – temporarily – back into the top ten in book sales. The power of movies.

It was a lovely looking film, even accounting for the gore, which was most realistic. My younger self would not have enjoyed it. I’d worried about the cringe-factor of having a non-native speaker play Vera, but Alicia Vikander was perfect. (I might have to dislike her a little for that.) What people who haven’t read the book make of the film, I have no idea. It must be like Harry Potter. You run past the highlights and you will hopefully make some sense of it.

The plot which remained when all the ‘excess’ pages had been dealt with made the whole thing out to be mostly about the romance, and less about years of hard work, nursing in the war. And I suppose the romantic twist at the end was to appease viewers who had cried too much when everyone died. At least they didn’t resurrect those who died in real life.

While romantic, this film did portray WWI as far more traumatising and downright incomprehensibly awful than most war films I’ve seen. And that’s good. We need the negative propaganda. It’s also worth remembering that being allowed to go to university is a relatively new thing. If you’re a woman, I mean.

Kathryn J Atwood, Women Heroes of World War I

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Wein’s new novel, and that is also about the dreadfulness of war and what women can do. (More about that another day.)

And through Elizabeth, I had another well timed book in my letterbox yesterday. It’s Kathryn J Atwood’s Women Heroes of World War I. I haven’t read it yet, obviously, but it looks very promising. Kathryn features the lives of 16 women and what they did in the war. So watch this space.

Daughter liked Testament of Youth, the movie, but I have high hopes of her giving the book a go, too. It is far superior to the film, and everyone ought to read it.


7 responses to “Women and war

  1. A long time ago, they did Testament of Youth on Masterpiece Theatre here. I didn’t see it because I didn’t have a television back then. But my college roommate did and because of that we were both reading it on my first trip to England. It certainly gave a new sense of reality to all the WWI monuments we saw everywhere in our travels. Oddly enough, Britain’s daughter Shirley Williams was vying for the office of prime minister at the time, so it had even more immediacy.

  2. Brittain’s daughter, that is, although I suppose she was Britain’s daughter too.

  3. A few years ago I sat an arm’s length away from Shirley Williams as she was being interviewd by someone in the press yurt at Edinburgh, and all I could think of was how close I was to Vera’s daughter.

  4. Linda Lawlor

    I just finished Elizabeth Wein’s new book half an hour ago – it’s amazing. She just gets better and better, doesn’t she?

  5. Yes. This one is another early candidate for best of 2015.

  6. Mary H. Lamb

    Well of course the book is superior to the film – how could it be otherwise, but the film of Testament is a brilliant distillation of a powerful book and should be seen by anyone who admires Vera Brittain. They should also read her Letters from a Lost Generation and the biographies by Mark Bostridge, which show how much Brittain altered details of her experience of the war when she wrote about it.

  7. I dare say it was an unnecessary comment to make. It just slipped out.

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