Mark Cunliffe’s review published on Letterboxd:
Made in 1979, at a time when the BBC really knew how to do faultless period drama mini-series, this BAFTA-winning adaptation of Vera Brittain's bestselling memoir remains a deeply compelling, poignant and powerful work and, at 268 minutes, benefits greatly from a longer running time in comparison to the 2014 film version starring Alicia Vikander, allowing it to explore in more depth the characters and themes at the heart of Brittain's work with the end result being more relatable and engaging for the audience.
Cheryl Campbell gives an excellent performance as the young Vera, who defies family expectation to take her place at Oxford in 1913. But dark clouds of conflict are gathering and soon, her expectations of the learned life and romance with her fiancé Roland (Peter Woodward) are swept away from her on the tide of war. Determined to do something, Vera leaves the dreaming spires of Oxford behind and enlists as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, first in London and later overseas in Malta and on the front line in France, in an effort to be close to Roland, her brother Edward (Rupert Frazer) and their friends Victor (Michael Troughton) and Geoffrey (Geoffrey Burridge)
Better pacing and the luxury of the longer running time ensures that writer Elaine Morgan and director Moira Armstrong strive to encompass much of what Brittain's memoirs so important and still resonant to this day. Whilst the 2014 film focuses squarely on the effects of the war, this paints a much more detailed picture of Brittain's youth, including the changing social significance of women in the 1900s and ends with the optimism of the 1920s when Vera lived in Bloomsbury with fellow writer and friend Winifrid Holtby (Joanna McCallum) - and oh to have been around then! - and she slowly began to live again after the horrors of war. Whilst I enjoyed the recent film for what it was, it did gain some criticism from some quarters for it labouring a touch too thickly in terms of poignancy, and also for it's stifling 'heritage' approach, so it's particularly rewarding to see Campbell channel some actual vocal rage and palpable grief that the film did perhaps not always afford Vikander, against a less polished backdrop. Modern day viewers may not slip as easily into the style of TV productions at the time (the mix of film for location shoots and videotape for studio scenes) but it is certainly not a production that gains that unwanted 'heritage' tag as a result.
A deeply moving and much recommended rites of passage tale.