Director: James Kent (first feature film)
Screenplay: Juliette Towhidi (Death Comes To Pemberley, Calendar Girls)
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harrington, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan
Length: 2 hours 9 minutes
Based on the memoir of the same name by Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander), Testament of Youth depicts Brittain’s life beginning just before the onset of WWI and getting accepted into Oxford, through the war and seeing her brother, lover and friend head off to France, and ending with the Armistice. Vera’s dream has always been to be a writer, but her frustrations with being unable to follow her male friends into war lead her to take up nursing and face seeing her entire world turned upside down.
Starting with the positives, this film has beautiful cinematography. A scene at the beginning of the film especially with Alicia Vikander and Kit Harrington (who plays Roland her lover) talking amongst gently blowing the lace washing on the line with beautiful, streaming afternoon sunlight was absolutely gorgeous. I also liked the use of short snippet type shots to show the story’s progression between major scenes. A really efficient way to move the story forward a lot in a short time and offering some beautifully crafted shots.
Everyone was well cast and all did the best job with their roles. Except Kit Harrington I think. He may be excessively attractive while looking dour and not saying much with a northern accent. But he doesn’t quite possess the right sort of charm to make Roland feel so much out of the ordinary that would make Vera, who said very clearly she would never marry, fall for him. He just didn’t convince me that he’d ever written a line of poetry.
Although I think Alicia Vikander was great, I felt like she was let down by the script and story. The romance and the horror of war are the least interesting things about this story, those topics have been covered many times before, but that is what the story focused on. What is interesting is Vera as a feminist figure, succeeding finally to be equal with her male friends by getting into Oxford, only to again to be trapped as a woman by not being able to join her friends in the war and having to sit by feeling completely helpless. Also interesting was Roland’s mother, a working writer and supporting her family. Played by the brilliant Anna Chancellor and yet pigeonholed into the role of the hero’s mother with very few lines.
Alicia gets one moment to express Vera’s frustration and pacifist leanings in a speech at the end of the film, where we finally see her passion. Otherwise her restrained speech (possibly the result of her trying to hide the Swedish hints to her accent) and expression fell too much into a tragic, period drama heroine stereotype for me. I especially think the art department are at fault for keeping her so “beautiful”. Obviously Alicia is naturallyincredibly beautiful, but even when in the midst of nursing sick Germans in France her hair and makeup were a bit too perfect. The occasional scene of her with her hair down and in her underclothes weren’t quite enough make her truly real.
This is a competent, well made film that rises above average due to interesting filmmaker decisions in regards to cinematography and editing. But it sadly hasn’t quenched my thirst for a film with a real blood and guts, faults and all, female protagonist.