“The harder they push, the more grateful I am.” So says an inexperienced but resolute Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander) as she struggles with the demands of her nursing superiors at the outbreak of World War One. Belittled by Niamh Cusack’s officious Sister Jones, the “ivory towers” of a privileged upbringing will crumble and fall as the horrors of experiencing the Great War irrevocably change the young woman, putting her on a path towards pacifism and, most notably, writing. A nostalgic but heartfelt period piece, this adaptation of Brittain’s wartime memoirs is the story of an indomitable spirit and proof of the old adage that what does not kill you will make you stronger.
The story behind Amma Asante’s film Belle, which premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, is inspired by a painting attributed to German artist Johann Zoffany that currently hangs in Scone Palace in Perth, Scotland. It depicts two young women, one of whom is black and the other white.