Testament of Youth
Starring Alicia Vikander, Kit Harrington, Colin Morgan, Taron Egerton, Dominic West, Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson
James Kent’s Testament of Youth is based on the autobiography of Vera Brittain who is portrayed on screen by Alivia Vikander (Ex Machina, A Royal Affair). The story takes the female point of view during WWI as she watches her future ambitious crumble and the men in her life disappear one by one. Vikander continues to challenge herself on screen across all genres with roles that showcase her range. Testament of Youth understands the popularity of Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones) by using his status to bring attention to the film both in marketing and giving his character more depth than the other supporting faces.
Literally begging to apply to Oxford, Vera Brittian (Vikander), finally receives the approval and money from her father (West) and gets into the prestigious college who only recently began accepting women. Before the first term, war breaks out and both Vera’s older brother Edward (Egerton) and his college mate Roland (Harrington) are enlisting for their duty. Unable to focus on her love of writing, Vera drops out of Oxford and joins the nurses so she might be closer to Roland, whom she has developed feelings for. The more loss she experiences, the closer to danger Vera travels. By the end of war, the young ambitious girl begging to attend Oxford has disappeared into a grieving woman vowing never to forget those she has lost.
At various points in the film I scratched my head, eager to find out what we are supposed to gain from Vera’s story.
Testament of Youth begins as one film, something we think we recognize and understand, an Elizabeth Bennett type female, ignoring the gender structures of her era in favor of education and higher learning. However, before we can see the fulfillment of that stereotype she falls in love, war breaks out, and the story takes a different path. The film’s tone ends up abandoning Pride & Prejudice and hurdles more toward Atonement, as the audience struggles to understand the ever changing narrative. At various points in the film I scratched my head, eager to find out what we are supposed to gain from Vera’s story. Is it simply war through the eyes of females, is it a story about loss, or is it just a coming of age story during a specific period of time?
“All of us are surrounded by ghosts, now we must learn how to live with them,” a friend tells Vera. In her previous films Vikander is delegated to (powerful) supporting performances, now she is being given the task of carrying a film on her own, relatively unknown mainstream shoulders. It’s her strong yet delicate performance in combination with the suspense of “who will survive” that makes Testament of Youth more than just another stuffy war era drama. I also couldn’t help but be reminded of Richard Attenborough’s In Love & War starring Sandra Bullock as a war time nurse, while that film had more drama and romance, here we get a more accurate portrayal of war. Often slow moving but beautifully captured on screen, this film makes an admirable debut for director Kent and proves Vikander a worthy leading lady.
Vikander continues to further her strength as an international actor.