Another BBC winner and a magical afternoon
New York — Once again, on PBS starting this weekend, television will be doing one of the things it does best: informing as it entertains. "Testament of Youth" (PBS, Sundays, 9-10 p.m., starting this Sunday and continuing for four succeeding Sundays, check local listings for premiere and repeats) is still another instance of the mining of BBC's treasures by WGBH/- Boston's Masterpiece Theatre.
It is a true "docu-drama," the dramatization of Vera Brittain's own autobiography, covering the period of her life between 1913 and 1925. What makes it a valid and acceptable form, as far as I am concerned, is the fact that it is not based on whispers and rumors, but the author's own story. And even more important, a "decent interval" has passed since the events portrayed actually occurred. Thus the perspective of time can add understanding, whereas in too many cases of docu-drama the lack of decent intervals of time cause great distortion.
Author Vera Brittain and her autobiography, "Testament of Youth," are probably comparatively unimportant in the long-range British scheme of things in the arts. She was a good writer, not a great one. But she was an unusual woman; rare, if not unique, in her period.
Daughter of a Buxton merchant, Vera Brittain fought, reluctantly at first but more aggressively later on, for everything she believed in, whether it was education for women, equal rights for women, socialism, pacifism. In the long run what she was fighting for was the right of Vera Brittain to be Vera Brittain -- the right of every human being to attempt to attain her highest potential.
If World War I, to her, seemed at first like a mere obstacle in her drive toward her personal ambitions, it took growth and maturity for her -- as well as for the rest of the world -- to realize that WWI was, perhaps, the beginning of a new era: the end of the comparatively easygoing Western civilization which Europe and America had been enjoying for such a long time.
Although it might seem so on the surface, "Testament" is not just about a female provincial at Oxford, not just about WWI and its effect upon European men and women and especially Vera Brittain who served as a volunteer nurse, not just about the growth of feminism in England in the early 20th century -- although it ism about all those things. It is also about the last days of innocence, the end of ignorance as an excuse for inequality, the beginning of the actual integration of women into the world's too often futile search for reason and order.
From the very first moment in the intitial episode when ye olde faithful hoste, Alistair Cooke, introduces the author and her works, till the very final moment after the final fifth episode when he discloses that perhaps Vera Brittain's major legacy is her daughter, British political figure Shirley Willams, who remains an impressive labor figure today, "Testament" proves itself to be still another gripping BBC super-soap opera. This is not meant as a denigration -- it is totally in the tradition of "forsythe Saga," "Duchess of Duke Street" and most recently, "Pride And Prejudice."
As a matter of fact, in her own personal life, Vera Brittain might easily be described as a bit like Jane Austen, 100 years later.
"Testament Of Youth" features remarkable performances by just about everybody in the cast, but especially by Cheryl Campbell as Vera. It was written by Elaine Morgan and directed by Morra Armstrong, so there is a strong element of feminist accomplishment involved.
However, the series rises far above any individual social goal. It documents a way of life, a nearly forgotten era, and a human being who happens to be a woman, caught in the turmoils of daily life as she almost casually battles the constant whirlpools of time.
Cheryl Campbell has already become a kind of culture heroine because of her role as the singing schoolteacher in that cult BBC series "Pennies From Heaven." It is not improbable that "Testament," too, will develop a cult following of its own. It deserves that, and much more. 'Festival of Lively Arts of Young People'
The lady from "The Sound of Music" meets the man who radiates the joy of dancing, and what you have is a magical Sunday afternoon.
I don't know exactly how young one must be to qualify as a "young people" for one of the jolliest Sunday afternoon shows in recent years, but I plead guilty to being young enough to have had a joyous time previewing CBS's latest Festival of Lively Arts of Young People: "Julie Andrews' Invitation to the Dance with Rudolf Nureyev" (Sunday, 5-6 p.m., check local listings).
This introduction to the many facets of dane with Julie as good-natured guide , using conversations and examples with and by Nureyev, Ann Reinking, Sandman Sims, Eva Evdokimova, Peggy Lyman and the Green Grass Cloggers, is an hour of pure enjoyment even as it teaches a few thousand youngsters in the sudience things they may not have known about human movement, sometimes known as dance. There are classical pas de deux, tap dancing, modern dancing, clog dancing, singing, and just plain kidding around. You'll learn that American slaves, denied the use of drums, for instance, turned to tap dancing to simulate the sound of the tom-toms.
In a kind of fun grand finale, Miss Andrews asks Rudolf what dancers do when their performance is finished. "Soak our feet," he says playfully. "No," responds the ever-cheerful Miss Julie, "Take bows!" Whereupon everybody proceeds to take bows.
Well, take your own bows, director Tony Charmoli and CBS. This one is a winner for youngsters of all ages -- including the kids. It is not only superb entertainment for a Sunday afternoon; it deserves a spot on prime time -- anytime, anywhere.