Based on the popular novel of the same name Testament Of Youth is a coming of age story that follows Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander), a young girl growing up as England heads into World War I. Before the War Vera’s biggest problem is trying to get into university to study literature during a period when a woman’s studies were considered a waste of time.
Upon getting into University though Vera learns that the war is beginning to spread across Europe. Soon she finds herself right in the middle of it as her brother, Edward (Taron Egerton), her fiancé Roland Leighton (Kit Harington) and best friends Geoffrey Thurlow (Jonathan Bailey) and Victor Richardson (Colin Morgan) are all sent off to Europe to serve. As the stories coming from the frontline get worse and worse Vera decides to put her studies on hold and instead become a volunteer nurse.
Every now and then a film comes along that leaves you thinking ‘wow… just wow.’ In the time of special effects and CGI it’s normally been something epic happening on the screen that causes that response. Sadly, it is rarely a film that totally engrosses you in both its visual beauty and immersing storyline. But that is where Testament Of Youth comes to its fore… this is a film that will stick with its audience for a long, long time to come.
While many films often lack the ‘feel’ of the novel they are based here screenwriter Juliette Towhidi (who recently also showed her skills on Love, Rosie) manages to capture all of the teenage angst and anger that the real Vera Brittain wrote in her autobiography. For once a screenwriter read the novel they were adapting and understood exactly what the writer was trying to get across to their audience. Testament Of Youth is anti-war but it is a film that is supposed to show how important it was that men did die during the conflict and also graphically depicts why war is such a nasty affair for the people left behind.
What stands Testmant Of Youth apart from the many other films that have tried to show the horrors of war is the creative styling of director James Kent and veteran television director who is at the helm of his feature film. Kent brings a real beauty with this film working with his cinematographer in such a way that at times the images on the screen feel like you are looking at paintings. Even the most hardened emotionally draining scene seems to have an air of beauty around it with Kent in the director’s chair. Perhaps what shows his skills the most though is the fact that this is a film that is able to depict the horrors of war without ever actually showing a battle. The scenes of soldiers with limbs blown off or suffering from battle shock grouped together by something as simple as a father scouring the list of war dead in the newspaper does more than enough to show the audience how evil war can be without an overly graphic battle sequence.
Having heaped praise on the film though it is only fair to warn cinema goers that Testament Of Youth is not a film that is going to be enjoyed by all. The film is slow in pace and if films like Atonement have had you snoring then it is likely you won’t be a fan of this film either. Still the positives of this film largely outweigh the negatives and the fact that this film delivers such a powerful message about subjects as deep as feminism and the horrors of war without ever feeling that it has become bogged down just shows how talented the team of filmmakers behind it really are.
Also making Testament Of Youth a must see are the performances of its cast. Taron Egerton (who most would remember from Kingsmen: The Secret Service) and Kit Harington (yes Jon Snow from Game Of Thrones) put in such great performances that they are both virtually unrecognizable in their roles. Both show that they have the acting ability to go far beyond the roles that made them household names. But the strongest performance here comes from Alicia Vikander, an actress who has been on nearly everybody’s ‘star on the rise’ list since her performance in Anna Karenina. Her Vikander out performs her age and shows that she deserves to mentioned as one of the best young actresses in the industry at the moment. With Testament Of Youth she easily overcomes everything thrown at her and delivers a emotionally powerful performance that helps make this one of the films of the year.
Next time somebody says that there are no great films made any more point them in the direction of Testament Of Youth. This powerful film delivers a strong message about war while also making the audience wish that James Kent had turned his hand to directing features a lot earlier in his career. The beauty of this film is hard to describe in words but it is enough to show that Kent is one director that has been underestimated over the years. Aided by some amazing cinematography and an outstanding acting performance by Alicia Vikander Kent has helped create a film that is worthy of five stars.
Director: James Kent
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Taron Egerton, Dominic West, Kit Karington
Running Time: 129minutes
Release Date: 16th January 2015