There is no future in the endless moping over why the Brits can do it on TV and we can't. Suffice it, at the moment, to note that they've done it again and, thanks be to public broadcasting, we get to see it.
Masterpiece Theater's newest offering, "Testament of Youth," by the feminist-pacifist British author Vera Brittain is a five-parter beginning Sunday (Channel 26 at 9).
"Testament of Youth" was a best seller when it appeared in 1933, and the teleplay series from the now generally forgotten book was highly acclaimed when it appeared on BBC.
Vera Brittain (who died a decade ago) was a poet, journalist and writer, a "minor" one we are told by the ubiquitous, mostly irrelevant but nonetheless popular Alistair Cooke, MT's host. Brittain was an active feminist and lecturer in her later years as well. "Testament of Youth" was the extraordinary autobiographical account of her early adulthood, the years in which she fought for her right to be educated and saw her world -- and her fiance, the promising young poet Roland Leighton, as well as her brother -- swept away in the holocaust of World War I.
The series carries her life through her shattering front-line experiences as a volunteer nurse, through the loss of that generation of bright young men until 1925 when she begins, at last, to pick up the scraps of her life and she meets her husband-to-be, George Catlin, a professor of political science.
She continued to write and lecture under the name of Vera Brittain. Before and during World War II she was active in Jewish refugee organizations. After the war she lectured against nuclear armaments. Her daughter was also a journalist and became a member of Parliament.
"Testament" opens in the England's pre-Sarajevo days of affluence and rigid class distinctions. Vera Brittain is the moderately pampered daughter of a self-made papermill owner, but she has a tendency to rather uppity intellectual aspirations. In the opening episode we find stuffy Dad's horror at educating Vera overcome by a "conservative" teacher, but as the war begins, Vera's Oxford ambitions appear doomed. How much more is in fact lost remains for later.
"Testament of Youth" promises all the eloquent, feminist, antiwar passion that fired the popularity of the original book. It is sensitively acted by Cheryl Campbell as Vera. The generally strong cast includes Jane Wenham, Emrys James, Rupert Frazer and Peter Woodward as Leighton, who, however, tends to look a mite more military than poetic. It is fast-paced and intelligently staged. And besides being good television, it's always nice to be able to remind people that neither the peace movement nor the women's movement began in the '60s.