Based on one of the most famous and moving WWI memoirs, Testament of Youth is an autobiographical recount of the Great War as seen through the eyes of a young Vera Brittain. The film begins in 1914, where Vera (Alicia Vikander)—Oxford-bound and aspiring to be a writer—is mainly concerned with how to get her father to treat her seriously, and her budding attraction towards her brother Edward’s (Taron Egerton) friend Roland (Kit Harington). But her world is changed forever when war breaks out across Europe, and Edward, Roland and their friend Victor (Colin Morgan) eagerly sign up to fight.
Desperate to do something to help, Vera forgoes her future as a writer and signs up to volunteer as a war nurse, aiding injured and dying soldiers. What follows is a series of heart wrenching and devastating events that truly depicts the tragic impact WWI had on those mothers, wives and daughters who were left behind.
There is one thing about this film that towers over all else – and that is Alicia Vikander. This Swedish born actress has been making waves lately, starring in films such as Anna Karenina and A Royal Affair, and her performance in Testament of Youth is delicate, heartbreaking and utterly ethereal. Vikander is this devastatingly beautiful presence whose face is so mesmerising that I found myself unable to take my eyes off her. She creates a strong-willed but vulnerable character in Vera, and makes you feel every single ache that Vera ever felt, despite a few accent slip ups here and there. Taron Egerton is equally disarming as Vera’s caring brother Edward.
Also outstanding in Testament of Youth is the cinematography by Rob Hardy and direction by James Kent. Together they create this visually stunning film and a strong female voice that is often not present in wartime dramas. Costuming and set design are equally faultless, to the point where everything is almost too gorgeous for the dark and chaotic subject matter. And yet, I still found my face wet with tears for at least a third of the film’s two-hour runtime. This is an extremely sombre film not for the weak of heart, which delves deep into the despair and hopelessness felt by so many women during the war. Beyond being a historical recount, Testament of Youth even resonates with the current state of affairs around the world and the selfishness of war.
Some people might see Testament of Youth as a little too rose-tinted and attractive for what it is supposed to depict, and I do admit that some exchanges between Vera and her love interest Roland seemed a little too starry-eyed. It was oftentimes slowly paced, but for me, this didn’t detract from the poignancy of the film. Put simply, it was a beautiful film, a grave film and one that packs a serious wallop to the heart.
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