Friday, January 16, 2015

Shirley Williams on Testament of Youth

Jasper Rees has interviewed Shirley Williams about the film of her mother Vera Brittain's autobiographical book Testament of Youth:
What Williams really admires about the film is the friendships ("brilliantly done") and the sense of a young woman’s pioneering struggle for gender equality, plus the later glimpse of her internationalism. Brittain took the story of Testament of Youth deep into the Twenties to portray her growing conviction that the Great War must also be the last war.
Williams is aware that her mother’s pacifism is not fashionable, and indeed some columnists have given Brittain’s stance towards the Third Reich a kicking as her story returns to national attention
"I didn’t agree with my mother about that. I concluded that Hitler was so evil that you couldn’t stop him even with the most dedicated pacifism — he would have shot Gandhi."
Shirley pays a remarkable tribute to Cheryl Campbell, who played Brittain in the 1979 television adaptation - you will find it all on Youtube:
"She was so like my mother in many ways. You couldn’t get a cigarette paper between the two."
And interview concludes:
The hope is that the film will send new readers to the book for a bracing dose of Brittain’s candour, unrivalled among female chroniclers of the war.
"That's the thing I most respect," says Williams. "She was an incredibly honest woman. She never softened the truth. Nor did she exaggerate it. Don’t forget we’re talking about the Edwardian age. People were not candid, especially women."
This is Shirley's family history, so she should know. But I believe that the awful English "respectability", which is so often blamed on the Victorians, is more typical of the early decades of the 20th century. Particularly of the years following the First World War,


Simon said...

Don't we like to take the victorians down a peg because we are at heart deeply jelous of them and what they achieved - that progress, that empire, that suffering - things that, thankfully, no generation will ever achieve again! They just cannot, we conclude, have been humans as we are. They must have been either monsters or machines.

Phil Beesley said...

What is a cigarette paper?