Something petty but it stings.(16 Posts)
Watching Testament of Youth and there is Vera Brittan's Oxford college. Only they haven't filmed it at Somerville, they've filmed it at Merton.
The colleges built for women didn't LOOK like that. Every penny was a struggle. Every concession fought for.
But no. Merton looks like a proper Oxford college. Presumably it was Merton and not the college that educated Vera Brittan that got the fee.
Given my current username I am especially affronted about this. I haven't seen the film version (too tragic for me) so hadn't realised. Brittain's time at Somerville would have been nothing like the grandeur of Merton.
Wonder what Shirley Williams thinks - she's a Somervillian as well, right?
Yes, it is annoying - it's another whitewashing of women's struggles and minimising of the barriers and discrimination they faced.
This is a Cambridge story, but I do like it (and it might give you some cheer if you don't already know it - I found it when reading Pratchett one day and suddenly thinking 'what the ? is a senior wrangler anyway')?
I have no doubt that the filmmakers would have some glib explanation of wanting to make physically evident the mental/social barriers that VB had to leap to go to Oxford.
Except they trashed that too, by giving her a childhood home that looked like fucking Pemberley in thousands of exquisite rolling acres, rather than a well-appointed detached house in suburban Buxton.
This stuff means something. It means something that women at Oxford at that time had completely different surroundings from men. That wasn't accidental and it wasn't exactly peripheral to VB's story.
OK I'll shut up now. But shame on them.
I love the distinctions between men's and women's colleges Dorothy L Sayers makes in Gaudy Night.
Sorry for slight derailing..............
And the distinctions between men's and women's colleges that Virginia Woolf made in A Room of One's Own. Boiled beef, anyone?
'It is quite true that we have had to make what we can out of very little - and that, you know, is typical of our whole position here.'
'Yes; you are practically without endowments?'
The question was so offered as to include the Dean, who said cheerfully:
'Quite right. All done by cheeseparing.'
'That being so, ' he said seriously, 'even to admire seems to be a kind of impertinence.'
Seems pretty daft to do that. Apart from anything else, it's not exactly a minor continuity error as presumably anyone who has ever been to Oxford will notice....
I watched it last night and thought exactly the same thing with deep irritation. I don't think it's petty at all - it erases the long history of educational discrimination towards women at school and university level, and suggests a complete lack of awareness of the history of the women's colleges. I haven't read Testament of Youth in years -doesn't VB talk about Somerville's comparative poverty?
I just found an interestingly detailed report on the film on the distributor's website. here
On the location:
"Budget-wise, the film-makers were restricted by the need to find period locations without too many modern features, requiring only a minimum of production dressing (this made it hard to film in Vera’s actual college, Somerville, which has a number of modern additions). The quads of Merton College were used to evoke Vera’s time both at Somerville College and Oriel College (which she moved to in her first year after Somerville was turned into a hospital.) Merton College also had a connection with Testament of Youth, in that it was Roland Leighton’s college and his name is featured on Merton’s roll of honour board. Balliol dining room, Trinity library, and the SCR at Exeter College (doubling as Miss Lorimer’s study) were all used as sets. The blossom tree featured was at Trinity College. But the interior of Vera’s study was shot at the Welbeck estate near Sheffield.*
They couldn't use Somerville because of modern additions (because it was so small and shit back when Brittain was actually there) so... used some of the grandest colleges (plus Exeter!) instead, and an interior from a beautiful historic estate.
I might need to watch the first half. How far through the narrative arc do all the boys start dying?
I'm not sure I buy the "we couldn't film there because of the modern additions" claim. The wikipedia article gives the dates of the buildings, so (I think she went up in 1914, then suspending her studies in 1915 to get involved in the war effort) the film makers would have had House and Maitland and the Library to play with, and careful camera angles would have worked. I don't believe they had to use Merton.
No, I don't believe it either. If it is really important to a film maker to get the look right, you find angles that work, or you find a substitute building of the right era, same architect or whatever. They used pretty tight angles in Merton so clearly didn't have a huge budget to demodernise the streets. In which case why bother deliberately choosing to go elsewhere.
I think they wanted Oxford to look like a dream city, impossibly perfect, and possibly for VB to look tiny against buildings with big scale. They didn't want the visible compromises and lack of money of a women's college. It rather fits with not using any of VB's actual writing or poetry - as if university for her was all about architecture, a physical place and a role model, and almost nothing to do with anything intellectual or a female community. I don't think VB necessarily was very keen on the female community, but that's what she was in.
Oh yes, they didn't show her honing her debate skills in Somerville either - she suddenly popped up as an 'inspired' speaker on the same platform as George Catlin. To a largely male audience.
Oh this is pissing me off now.
Join the discussion
Please login first.