The real Testament of Youth: 1914 on film

As the acclaimed British war drama arrives in cinemas nationwide, take a look at films that show the reality of a nation under threat.

9 January 2015

By Peter Hill

It was the year the world changed. Testament of Youth recreates it with stark intensity, but this selection from our 1914 on Film collection on BFI Player shows the reality of life for a nation under threat…

German Spy Peril (1914)

Unlike James Kent’s film, this 101-year-old piece of wartime propaganda avoids nuance. The broad-brush story of a patriot thwarting enemy spies has the feel of the espionage stories of John Buchan, and some well-judged suspense.

Christmas at the Front (1914)

This newsreel footage of Allied troops (probably Belgian) resting from conflict was succour to British audiences seeking positivity from a war that was supposed to have been over by the end of the year.

German Prisoners (1914)

Frederick Walderman Engholm shot this news story under extreme circumstances, at a time when heightened paranoia rendered his job perilous because, as film journal The Bioscope explained, “The camera was the badge of a spy”.

Henley Finals Witnessed by Enormous Crowds (1914)

Vera Brittain’s pre-war life, at least as depicted on screen, was donnish and privileged, and this wonderful footage shows a society at play, as boaters and bow-ties assemble for the country’s most notable regatta.

Palace Pandemonium (1914)

The fight for female identity is at the centre of Brittain’s life, and Vera Brittain’s telling of it. A century ago, suffragette pioneer Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested at the gates of Buckingham Palace, her message amplified by a media who welcomed the ready-made headlines.

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