This film’s based on Vera Brittain’s First World War memoirs, and by all accounts sticks very closely to what she actually wrote. In parts it almost seems too … I don’t quite know how to put it, maybe too full of tropes, but it is really is a true story, and the fact that it’s a true story, that a true story really was this heartbreaking, makes it all the more poignant. Girl from well-to-do family battles her parents to be allowed to go to Oxford, rather than hunting for a husband. They eventually agree, but then the Great War breaks out, and she leaves Oxford to become a nurse. As a posh girl, she’s to some extent picked on by some of the senior nurses. The boys – and they are just that, boys – can’t wait to get to the front. Duty, patriotism, excitement … and then all that greets them is mud and death and horror. And it’s the same for the Germans. Vera gets engaged, but her fiancé is killed, and she hears about his death on the day of their wedding. Her brother is also killed, and so are two close friends. Eventually, she returns to Oxford, and tries to get on with her life.
It’s well-written and well-acted, but I think I was expecting a bit too much of it. In one scene, the camera gradually pans away to show rows and rows of wounded soldiers lying on stretchers outside a hospital, like in the famous scene in Gone With The Wind … but this isn’t Gone With The Wind: it isn’t that big. The First World War always breaks my heart, and if this isn’t the most powerful war film ever made then maybe it doesn’t try to be. Maybe it tries to be restrained, to tell its story quietly, elegantly, sombrely, respectfully. But, although it is an excellent film, I still can’t help feeling that something isn’t quite there, that maybe it’s a bit too restrained. If anyone reading this has seen it, please let me know what you thought: I’d be very interested to know. I feel like I should be saying that it’s a film that everyone ought to see, but I just wasn’t 100% convinced.