Essentially, this is one woman’s heart-rendering personal encounter with World War I through the eyes and memoirs of its author, Vera Brittain, played beautifully by Alicia Vikander.
The story begins pre-war as we meet Vera and her brother, Edward (played phenomenally by Taron Egerton) living out in the beautiful countryside of Buxton, with minor turmoil between them and their strict father whom frowns upon his intelligent free-thinking daughter who desires more than anything to go to Oxford to become a writer. In hindsight, the turmoil between the family in these early days seem a little naive and underwhelming after the turn of events that follow from the war, where we see most of Vera’s close friends and family ripped tragically from her, and even literally out of her arms at one point.
Nevertheless, it borders on provoking early feminist ideals of the intellectual woman as Vera desperately wins her father over, and subsequently succeeds in her scholarship to Oxford. In true Virginia Woolf style, Vera rejects the wooings of men and shuns the conventions of the married and domesticated woman, yet studies Wordsworth, Keats, and Byron in the comfort of her dark room alone. That is until she meets and falls helplessly in love with her brother’s friend, Roland, (played perfectly by Game of Thrones star, Kit Harington), a like-minded poet and Oxford writer, and together they look forward to beginning at Oxford together to pursue their literary dreams.
Yet the war beckons nearer and duties call. Duties which leave Vera embarking to Oxford alone and the haunting echoes of Roland’s and Edward’s conscription desires linger around her like a fleck of dust, like a ghostly fore-warning of their futures. The words to which every 21st century reader or watcher wrenches out their heart to. The communal voice of the 1914 men who went to battle, who told their loved ones and their fellow comrades:
‘We will be home by Christmas.’
Yet the days lurch on, and as her boys eagerly volunteer to go up to the front, naive and unaware, all-knowing Vera cannot sit idly in her Oxford home any longer. She packs up her things, abandons her dreams in the vague-haze that she, too, will be back soon, and volunteers as a nurse to treat the wounded.
The remaining story that unfolds of courage and heartbreak and the true devastations of war – I won’t ruin for you. I urge anyone to see this cinematic beauty in all it’s glory. I watched this film with a heavy and predictable heart, yet it surprised me in many ways and caught me off guard. It delves into many issues surrounding war; the false promises of hope, the lies about the ‘front’, the ideologies of war, the loved ones left behind, the grieving women, the shell-shocked men, the over-filled hospitals and under-staffed wards… Intertwined beautifully with poetry and Vera’s touching way with words. It is a story of love that should have been, and in a way still was, through Vera’s words and publication of her book that kept her men alive. I won’t be forgetting this film any time soon.