I was lucky enough to attend the premiere screening of this wonderfully emotional film based on one of the greatest war memoirs ever written, depicting the true-life account of Vera Brittian’s life from 1914 – 1918, and a chronicle of how the First World War affected not only her, but the nation’s lives. Luckily, the film is squeezed out in time for the awards season, probably the best time to receive all the praise it deserves. The film follows the life of Vera herself, beginning in pre-war 1914, we are introduced to her as a determined and willful individual with aspirations of not becoming just a traditional young-married women, but one who attends Oxford University and chooses her own life-choices. Along with her brother Edward (Taron Egerton) & his two friends Victor (Colin Morgan) and Geoffrey (Jonathan Bailey), they all enjoy their youth in the rural village with their parents (Dominic West and Emily Fox).
On-the-road to Oxford, she is introduced to her brothers close friend Roland (Kit Harington), and a relationship soon breaks out – but unexpectedly & untimely, as does the war. Quite proud to do so out of loyalty to Queen and country, her brother Edward, and friends Victor and Geoffrey with Roland all sign up in the army to join the war. Even after being accepted at Oxford, due to her inability to focus around the devastation, she joins the army as a nurse – and the film develops from there. WWI was a seminal event. It changed the lives of a generation. The story of the trenches of the First World War has become a familiar one over the last hundred years, immortalize not only in history books but also in countless memoirs, novels, poems, paintings, films and television program mes. Most of those, however, were told from a male viewpoint, normally the viewpoint of the men who actually did the fighting. A film like this one is valuable because it gives us a woman’s point of view. The film eases you into what was one of the horrors of recent history, a time which shattered people and ruined lives forever. After fighting so hard to get to Oxford, Vera then gives it all up to become a nurse, a journey which ultimately takes her to France and gives her first hand experience of the massacre that war dishes out. The film gets progressively darker as the war intrudes into the story. The darkest scenes of all are set in France. These scenes are grim and gritty, muddy and bloody. What makes this film different to other bloody war tales is the focus on the domestic view of the ones who not only joined the war on the front-line, but also those at home and the consequent effects on loved ones, offering an unseen perspective, and solid-account of the despair that war causes. Director James Kent has succeeded in serving us a thoroughly engaging history drama in ‘Downton Abbey ‘type war times and a unique approach to the war like never before & that surely could not have been achieved without the strong performances of its brilliant cast.
Alicia Vikander, a Swedish actress brings us out Vera’s compassion as well as her determination with her extreme likeability. Congratulations are also due to Alicia on her perfect English accent. While watching the film, in fact, I never suspected that she was not British by birth. It was only later that I discovered she is actually Swedish. Kit Harington plays his part well, Here however, his romantic side is much more subdued, & his role is quite small in the second half. Taron Egerton is the scene stealer again (after Kingsman), his role as loving brother & compassionate friend is probably the most relate able character in the film. However my only criticism would be the running time of the film! Even though a run time of 129 min may seem short for a war based film, the extended final act kept pondering the emotional effect the whole film built itself on. Nevertheless ‘Testament of Youth’ is about lost youth and how war achieves nothing at all. Hundreds of thousands of brilliant young people were lost in the two great wars, not to forget the countless wars of history. The film and the performances are very striking and reach one’s heart. I think it is original to see a film that focuses on the experience of a woman at war. This is another cinematic experience which makes you think & grief.