REVIEW: Testament of Youth | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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twoDirector: James Kent

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Colin Morgan, Taron Egerton and Dominic West

Run Time: 129 min

Certificate: 12A


When I saw the very first trailer for the film adaptation of Vera Brittain’s acclaimed war memoir, I was excited. It looked like a beautifully shot piece of art, with a strong, emotional storyline, an excellent cast and an explosion bubbling beneath the surface of suppressed emotions. I went into the movie theatre expecting that explosion to blow me off my feet. Unfortunately, I was left disappointed. While it can definitely be described as intense, Testament of Youth was not a movie I would go and see a second time.

Vera Brittain, performed by young Swedish discovery Alicia Vikander, is a strong, independent young woman in the wake of World War I. She is driven and passionate and makes it her life’s calling to study English at Oxford University, despite her parents’ lack of faith in her abilities. She falls in love with her brother Edward’s talented, romantic friend Roland Leighton. (Kit Harington) Roland and Edward are both shipped off to the front and Vera has to come to terms with not just the role of helplessness that society seems set on imposing on her, but with losing the ones she loves most in her life.

testament of youth

the entire movie was trying too hard not to be another wartime drama

In her performance as Vera Brittain, Alicia Vikander is beautiful and intense. However, the script did not give her the opportunity to give the best performance that she was capable of. Vera was allowed one scene near the very end where she raises her voice and speaks up against war and in favour of a peaceful resolution. The beginning of the film had coded her as a rebellious, strong woman, who was not afraid to have her voice heard. Some may say that actions speak louder than words and, no doubt, the horrors that Vera survived while working as a nurse at the front deserved respect. However, they did not seem to speak loud enough.

Overall, the entire movie was trying too hard not to be another wartime drama, which turned it exactly into another wartime drama. On the positive side, Kit Harington delivered a perfectly nuanced and emotional performance, building his character through the smallest of gestures, words and looks. His performance of Roland on leave was spectacular, with the ghost of war visible in his eyes and the tension obvious in his body. Colin Morgan was also impressive as the endearing Victor, smitten with Vera, yet unable to confess his feelings for her. However, the undoubtedly excellent cast suffered with a, sadly, rather poorly executed script.

There is no one who would dispute the fact that Vera Brittain’s story is inspiring and motivational. It is obvious that Testament of Youth relied on being intensely harrowing and emotional in order to have the audience sympathise with Vera’s struggles but it left me feeling as if the story was untold. Sometimes it’s not all about intensity and shocking emotion; feelings can be subtle and gentle and just as powerful. It was a beautifully shot and performed production, which sadly went downhill due to the poor script and misguided attempt at provoking sympathy.

Testament of Youth is currently showing at Tyneside Cinema.

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