Bio weekend 

My word it is hot. It is so damned hot, I could almost be forgiven for forgetting what I did over the last two days. You want to know how hot it is? No? Well I am going to tell you anyway. It’s damn hot. I took the dogs for a walk at 5.30 pm and it was 38 degrees Celsius. That is just over a hundred in the old money. Not a cloud in the sky, so any heat that was going had already gone.

 At the top of the park is a water fountain under some Jacaranda trees, a few last pale purple petals scattered on the ground. Bees were dying next to them. I asked a lady there – an elderly one who I know – who was sitting in the shade how she was.

‘F&c*ing hot,’ she replied. She must have felt like the bees, I know I did. ‘If it wasn’t for her,’ at this she gestured at her dog, ‘I’d move to Canada.’

This weekend just gone was all about biographical films. Not by design, it just happened that way. The first one I watched was Testament of Youth.

I have not read the source text upon which it was based, which was probably just as well. I have a friend who has a theory that if you haven’t read the book of the film, then it should be avoided at all costs before viewing, because the likelihood is it will spoil the film. She is probably right. I made the mistake of reading Silver Linings Playbook before seeing the movie and as a result was incandescent with rage at the changes that were made.

So I had no expectations, but did know that is was based on a memoir, there would be war in it, people floating around in period dress and that Vera Brittain was a feminist who went to Oxford, but that was about it. I also did not realise that the English politician Shirley Williams was her daughter, but I digress.

This film should have been great, and there was much to admire: a solid cast of acting greats, really good performances, beautiful English countryside, but it was oddly disengaged from its subject. I don’t know why. It was like a story that kids write in the style of a shopping list: We went to the beach and then we went to the shops and then we went to the cafe and then we went to lunch… It is an odd criticism of a film to say that it seemed like a load of scenes, one after the other, but that is how it felt. I don’t know why I failed to engage as the story itself was pretty epic.

The one thing that did strike me was a poem at its centre, though ironically not one that was written by Vera Brittain. Rather, it was written to her by her fiancé, Roland Leighton when he was fighting in France. It was called Violets and is used to striking effect in the film, as she keeps both the dried flowers and the poem he sends her. I wondered actually if this was a device that had been contrived for the film but no, a quick search confirmed that it was as true as the tragic events that surrounded her during the war. Actually if I were to be mean, I would say that perhaps almost nothing had been contrived for the film and that is why it feels a bit flat. Perhaps it is too faithful to the text? Also twice the camera work on the shot/reverse shots in conversation was a bit bumpy (I have never noticed it before but that may be because of that YouTube video I saw the other day) and it jolted me out of the film a bit.

I now wonder if I ought to read the book – the other half of my friend’s theory was that if the book is good, the film may ruin it, but you may enjoy a book all the more if the film is not so hot. I have a stack of books right now to get through so it is not going to be something I get around to soon, but I am curious to read her voice, as it seemed so lacking in this version of her life – unlike the voice I saw in the film the following day – another bio pic, but I will leave that post for tomorrow.


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