This film is truly a testament of youth and an eloquent and moving argument against war. It is based on Vera Brittain’s autobiography in which a young woman is passionate about being accepted into Oxford, but when her brother and their friends get caught up in the spirit of serving their country at the onset of WWI, she feels compelled to join them by taking a leave from her studies and becoming a nurse in the war zones.
The work of James Kent, the director, has primarily been in television productions (e.g., “The White Queen”), but here he demonstrates that he is well prepared for making full-length drama films, as proven by his being recognized this year with a nomination for Breakthrough British Filmmaker by the London Critics Circle Film Awards. Testament of Youth is indeed well directed and beautifully filmed (Rob Hardy, cinematographer), with an evocative musical score (Max Richter)—all of which, along with the acting, elevates the production.
We recently had the pleasure of seeing Vikander in Ex Machina, Anna Karenina, and A Royal Affair, and her considerable talent and skills are in evidence here once more as a cheeky young British woman, Vera, willing to buck all kinds of obstacles in achieving her goals. In addition to jumping the major hurdle of being accepted into Oxford as a female, she skillfully manages to get her fiancé to open up to her when he returns from his first stint in the service traumatized by the death of one of his men, and later badgers a commanding officer for the true story of what happened to someone very dear to her.
Also noteworthy in the realization of their roles are Harington as Roland, Vera’s love interest, and Egerton as her brother Edward. It’s refreshing to see these male characters supporting Vera’s aspirations and being sensitive to women’s issues, particularly in that day and age. We know Harington best from “Game of Thrones” where he has been a hit and heart throb. Here, he is more an artist type like Vera, and the poems of both of them grace the film very nicely. Vera’s and Edward’s parents (West and Watson) are veteran actors who can always be relied upon to give fine performances.
This is a period film of beauty, but with much heartache as the horrors of war are graphically displayed. It’s plain to see why Vera Brittain, the author of the memoir, devoted her adult life to advocating against war.
Beautiful, moving, and heartbreaking—but oh so real.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland