I don’t go to the cinema very often in Singapore. There are few movies to watch, with the public only responding to children’s action films, usually involving a superhero, or men and women that illegally race cars on public roads in Nevada, Tokyo, and probably elsewhere.
That said the last film I saw in Singapore was ‘Everest’ which was exciting even though I knew the ending having read ‘Into Thin Air’. The cinema was empty as you would expect, given complexities like plot and character having to be absorbed. Moreover, “based on a true story” is probably the box office death knell for any film. What self-respecting adult wants truth, when flying CGI men in lycra bodysuits or gigantic robotic insects are available? Anyway I digress.
So how do I catch up with world cinema? Via one of Singapore’s finest institutions (well corporations really) Singapore Airlines. Long haul flights are the chance to watch anything half-decent I’ve missed, and delve into the magnificent world of European cinema. So on the way to SFO I watched 2 films. The first ‘Ted 2’ was truly dreadful…a kind of warmed up entrails of the first ‘Ted’. Seth Macfarlane hang your head in shame. The scene where the blonde lawyer girl wasn’t familiar with the Rocky franchise was quite funny admittedly. The improv comedy night scene where Ted shouts “9/11” and “the offices of Charlie Hebdo” was good also, but did not make up for the rest of the schmaltz, and tastelessness.
So next i decided to go serious and watch Testament of Youth, an adaptation of Vera Brittain’s classic First World War memoir of the same name. Normally I’m skeptical of any film set in the First World War given the propensity for cliches, and overblown action sequences where whistles blow and honest men clamber into the field of fire, It’s not that that didn’t happen, but it’s been done, and Peter Weir’s Gallipolli is still the benchmark, 35 years on. However, a hot girl in the trailer playing the lead (Alicia Vikander) swayed me. And my Mum always told me to read the book which I never did so I felt like I should see what it was all about.
The plot is simple. in 1913/14 Vera, her brother and his mates are all on the verge of going up to Oxford, and life’s major problems consist of overbearing parents and being chaperoned by some fat woman when you go on a hot date. Needless to say, war creeps up in 1914 and all the lads say tally ho and off to France to fight the Kaiser’s evil Boche hordes. Our heroine Vera is left trudging off to Oxford, miffed that her beau John Snow Roland (Kit Harington) is no longer going to be there for some late night blue stocking hi-jinks. Incidentally, the cinematographer sets most of the Oxford scenes outside the Radcliffe Camera which is deuced odd, and clearly Somerville College was a lot prettier one hundred years ago, that’s all I can say. When Vera realizes that it isn’t all going to be over by Christmas, she decides to leave Oxford to train as a nurse…and the rest is…well you’ll have to read the book or watch the movie.
It’s a real slow burner of a film, and gets better as it goes on. Vikander’s performance is understated and powerful, while the rest of the ensemble cast (Miranda Richardson, Hayley Atwell (mmmm!) Dominic West, Emily Watson) are very good. Only Harington disappoints for me, though I may be biased against him. Anyway, despite myself I enjoyed it and thought it was moving, and said alot more about the First world war than anything involving a horse as the main character. I’m much more likely to read the book now, and I know it’s a bloody thick book, so that’s something.