Film Review: Testament of Youth (2014)

“The whole situation’s been really quite dreadful”

Based on Vera Brittain’s First World War memoir, Testament of Youth hit cinemas in late 2014, perfect timing to capitalise on the rising star of Alicia Vikander whose moment would culminate in winning an Academy Award for The Danish Girl. Her work here in this film is equally spectacular though, directed by James Kent and written by Juliette Towhidi, an elegiac beauty washes through the whole production as Vera’s determination first to study at Oxford and then to help with the war effort plays out.

We first meet Vera in the good company of three good-looking men and as the film progresses, it’s refreshing to see that her journey isn’t defined by them, merely informed. Kit Harington’s poet Roland, Colin Morgan’s shyly besotted Victor, Taron Egerton’s faithful brother (who shares his sister’s eye for a good-looking chap and when it’s Jonny Bailey, who wouldn’t!). And as war plucks each of them from their country idyll, her relationship with each has to bend and reshape.

The way in which love and friendship are intensified in times of crisis is beautifully done and naturally, achingly tragic as so many experienced during the course of this war. Notions of self-sacrifice come into play beautifully and the growth of Vera’s political conscience – Brittain would become one of Britain’s most noted pacifists – is writ large through Vikander’s sensitive performance and the lens of Rob Hardy’s elegant cinematography.

The cast of full of lusciously good British and Irish talent, with the women particularly shining. Miranda Richardson as no-nonsense Oxford tutor Miss Lorimer, Anna Chancellor as Roland’s mother, Niamh Cusack’s brusque sister and Hayley Atwell’s pragmatic nurse struggling on the front, all sharply defined cameos. And Dominic West and Emily Watson are all pitch-perfect upper-class repression as Vera’s parents, struggling to deal with a world – and a daughter – leaving them behind. A beautiful film.

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