Director: James Kent Starring: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington & Taron Egerton Synopsis: A British woman recalls coming of age during World War I Rating: 12A Runtime: 129 minutes Release date: 16 January 2015
Based upon Vera Brittain‘s memoirs from World War I, Testament of Youth is a heartbreaking account of love and war, as well as one woman’s attempts to find herself in a male dominated world. Vera’s tale is rife with elements that will pull on the heartstrings, and justifiably so, but does that make it a good film?
The simple answer would be yes. Brittain’s tale is one that seems so impossible, it’s hard to imagine that it was indeed all very real. The many hardships she faced would have had many submit, while Vera instead went on to become a relevant and powerful character who fiercely promoted feminism and pacifism.
It was therefore key to cast an actress who could fulfil a big screen version of Vera Brittain. In Alicia Vikander, the film has a very slight, yet firm pair of shoulders to be carried on. Vikander plays Brittain as a rebellious young woman, who will not accept being told she can’t do something, and who abhors the well to do lifestyle she has grown up in.
Vikander’s performance is the type of performance that gets an actress recognised, and her work here is a fine way to put her on many film fans radars. She is ably supported by the likes of Taron Egerton and Kit Harrington, who play her brother and her lover respectively. Dominic West and Emily Watson are both excellent actors, but have little to do as Vera’s parents, and they are both relegated to side roles.
The story itself is littered with grief and agony, as Vera first of all fights her Father’s wishes to go to school at Oxford, and then delays the schooling that she worked so hard for to perform voluntary aid on the victims of WWI. Her tireless commitment to each cause is endearing, and her strong character shines through on each occasion. Her compassion is also apparent as she treats both German and British troops fresh from the battlefield, giving her the justice to perform a rousing speech towards the film’s end.
As with many war film, Testament of Youth can be an excruciating watch. Only here it is not the on the battlefield where we feel the strain, ala Saving Private Ryan, but in the deep agony that Vera, her family and her lover go through in order to do what they perceive as the right choice. Every decision is in constant battle with another one, and the misery of war proves it can be felt at home as well as on the frontline.
In summary: Testament of Youth is a beautifully shot and superbly acted film, that while emotionally exhausting, remains a story that has to be told and one that everyone should experience at least once.