It doesn’t matter how many times or in what way the events are portrayed, the sheer horror and brutality of the First World War always seems to take one’s breath away. That’s not to say that all warfare isn’t horrific and brutal, but what makes the Great War so poignant is that the technology of mass destruction had arrived almost without most of the general population knowing or noticing.
Not only did those hundreds and thousands of young men march off in gung-ho fashion without any comprehension of what awaited them, but even as they began to return maimed and emotionally crippled there was a disconnect between what was happening in France and life at home. It was largely due to artists, poets and writers such as Vera Britain that this veil of ignorance slowly began to lift. What made her account tmore vivid and remarkable was firstly, that Vera was one of very few young women who saw the horrors at first hand on the battle field, and secondly, that she made no attempt to hide the sheer incompetence and inhumanity of those in command that led them to regard human life as being of such little value.
Alicia Vikander, besides being very beautiful, has that ability which good movie actors have to act with the eyes. Director James Kent makes the most of this and makes liberal use of the close-up. This works well in the scene where Vera sees for the first time the mutilation and butchery in the ill-equipped field hospital. And later when she begins to comprehend the sheer scale of loss of life and the inability of those on the home front to undertsand it.
Vera Brittain became an ardent pacifist and yet powerful as her testament was, it wasn’t enough to prevent the world from going to war again twenty years later. And as the slaughter continues day after day somewhere on the planet, movies like this that remind us of the futility and pointlessness of it still need to be made and watched. But they need to be well made - and this one is.