Testament of Youth (2014)
Director: James Kent
Screenwriter: Juliette Towhidi
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Colin Morgan, Taron Egerton, Emily Watson, Dominic West, Hayley Atwell, Miranda Richardson
It’s summer 1914 and Vera is a young girl from a conservative middle-class family. She is intelligent, brilliant and she wants to attend Oxford to study literature and improve her writing skills since she dreams to become a writer herself. Her father is against it but the story will turn out in a completely different way when the war breaks out and Vera is forced to say goodbye to her fiancé Roland, hoping to see each other again.
All I can say is that the two of them make a lifelong promise to one another. The first half of the film drags on a bit, however, the story soon picks up pace and you find yourself quite hooked.
It is not an action war film that shows the fighting, but the psychology of the characters, and this is what I like the most in this WWI dramas. Another highlight for me was finding out that the film score was composed by Max Richter, whose work I was already familiar with – he also wrote the score for Lore – and I thoroughly enjoyed in Testament of Youth.
The story starts by showing the audience the life of Vera, her brother Edward and their friend Victor, right before the outbreak of the First World War. The film is told mostly through Vera’s experience and that is emphasised in the sequence at the beginning, which was uniquely shot – it is a sequence showing Vera’s point of view and it is used for a flashback that takes the audience back to the start. The film centres around Vera and the men of her life: her brother Edward, her best friend Victor and of course the love of her life Roland, with whom she shares the same passions and interests – especially for poetry and writing – and their relationship is very intellectual and not only romantic.
This is something that I found to be new, because I don’t recall any war movie that displays this kind of relationship between the two main characters. The actors Kit Harington (Roland) and Alicia Vikander (Vera) had great on-screen chemistry and I enjoyed their scenes together. The rest of the cast was also brilliant and their performances captivating. There were very emotional moments that I can’t mention otherwise I’ll spoil them for you, but I literally cried for all the film because the way Alicia Vikander portrayed Vera was so realistic that each event that struck her, struck me too. I should be accustomed to these striking feelings in war dramas – those that leave you reeling – but they always get you when you thought you weren’t vulnerable.
I will just mention a sequence when Vera speaks about the war and its consequences… The speech delivered by Alicia Vikander is emotional, gripping and one of the highlights of the entire film. Vera points out how Britain and the victorious countries shouldn’t look for revenge – and impose hefty war reparations on their former enemies – because, after seeing suffering on both sides, she’s realised the futility of war. This is the first step in the development of her pacifist ideas.
Vera Brittain went on to become a successful writer. Testament of Youth, the first instalment of her autobiography, was published in 1933. According to her biographers, writing was a cathartic process for her, a way of coping with the losses she had suffered during the conflict. And this comes across very well in the film. On this note, I’ll leave you with one final quote that sums up the meaning of the story and the significance of Testament of Youth in Vera’s life:
“They’ll want to forget you, they’ll want me to forget.
But I can’t. I won’t. This is my promise to you now. All of you.”
I'm particularly passionate about British and German cinema, and I'm a sucker for a good old war film.