The past is another country…

Testament of Youth – book and film.


I first read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth when I was in the sixth form at school, I seem to recall a friend telling me that I “had to read this amazing book” and pressing her copy into my hands.  She was right and that Christmas I was given copies of all three Testament books, which I still have now.

Over the next six or so years I think I re-read Testament of Youth about once a year, and it was certainly one of the books I wanted with me should I have ended up on that mythical desert island.  I don’t recall reading Testament of Friendship or Testament of Experience quite as frequently but I have read them more than a couple of times.

When I heard that there was to be a film version of the book I was extremely nervous – how would such a favourite book adapt to the big screen?


On the whole I enjoyed the film a lot.  I thought that it captured the Vera I remembered from the book and gave a face to her brother Edward, fiance Roland and friends Victor and Geoffrey. The move from the carefree Edwardian period into the horrors of war and then Vera’s equally troubled peace worked very well on film.

I did bristle at some of the changes made to the story – there was a sharp intake of breath a couple of times – but from a cinematographic point of view I understand why these happened, and as they just changed timelines and not facts I went with the flow.  After all if Vera’s daughter, Baroness Shirley Williams, liked the film who am I to quibble?!

I saw the film with my husband, who wasn’t familiar with the story at all and we both agreed that it was a good, if romantic version of one woman’s war.

When I got home from the cinema I decided that it was time to dig out my copy of the book and have another read. This is where I got a real surprise…

Instead of falling back in love with the book I found myself astonished at how little I actually liked Vera Brittain as she portrayed herself. I found her to be a hard, almost selfish character that I could no longer identify with – I suppose that this isn’t too surprising considering all she went through, but I could no longer see the progressive woman that I had so admired as a younger woman.

Since finishing Testament of Youth I have also read her son’s autobiography and a biography written by Paul Berry and Mark Bostridge. Interestingly both of these books echo my current feelings about Testament  and the author.

I do feel sad that my feelings have changed, I feel a little like I have lost a friend in some ways.  I am glad that I did see the film however as that has left me with the spark of hope that perhaps in a few years I will come back to the book and rediscover the aspects that I so loved a decade ago.

Copies of Testament of Youth can be borrowed from Norfolk’s Libraries, as can the Berry/Bostridge biography.

The film is currently too new to be available on DVD but the BBC television series from the late 1970s is available for hire.


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