That is a photo of a war hero. Buxton-born Edward Brittain was that dashing mustached man in uniform. But, even in the compelling and passionately pacifist period drama Testament of Youth, the real story of Edward’s (Taron Egerton) shooting has been subsumed in the female-driven drama of his older sister, Vera (Alicia Vikander). She after all, wrote the popular WWI memoir published in 1933. And when Vera Brittain wrote the book, she was likely unaware that of the real cause of her brother’s “heroic” death.
Edward Brittain took an Italian sniper’s bullet in the Somme five months before the Armistice, but the real betrayal stemmed from British Army homophobia. Shades of Alan Turing and The Imitation Game. Brittain’s commanding officers discovered a cache of Brittain’s letters that revealed sexual relations with ordinary soldiers n his unit at a time when homosexuality was illegal. According to Oxford-educated historian Mark Bostridge, Brittain was given an option: submit to court martial Army justice or place yourself in harm’s way and die “honorably.” It was the WW1 version of don’t ask, don’t tell, just go away.
While this even darker chapter in Vera’s story does not appear on screen, Director James Kent (who is gay himself) revealed the fascinating and deeply sad historical anecdote during a post-screening talk in Manhattan hosted by ZEALnyc.com in answer to the question: what did you have to leave out of the book to make the movie. Brittain later wrote about her brother in her 1936 novel Honorable Estate.