Based on Vera Brittain’s bestselling World War I memoir, Testament of Youth takes on the horrors of war as seen from the point of view of a young nurse who witnesses her dear, young, male friends go to the battlefields and never return. Before the outbreak of war, Vera (Alicia Vikander) is a talented, aspiring writer who desires to go to Oxford, shunning the traditional role of wifehood expected for women of her age and class. Her brother Edward (Taron Edgerton) and their childhood friend Victor (Colin Morgan) spend the summer of 1914 with her before they intend to study at Oxford in the fall. At this time, Vera is introduced to Roland (Kit Harington), a friend of her brother’s and a fellow writer as well. They soon fall in love although small conflicts arise, such as the need to maintain propriety in their courtship. In the meantime, Vera manages to convince her father to allow her to go to Oxford and she passes her entrance exam. Things change drastically when war officially breaks out and Edward, Victor, and Roland volunteer for service in what newspapers assure everyone will be a short war.
The astoundingly talented Vikander carries the entire film with her impeccable performance. Her deceptively fragile frame exudes a certain kind of inner strength needed for her character although Vikander also allows Vera’s weaknesses to show as well. A quiet and interior film, Testament of Youth relies a lot on close-ups of Vikander as the intelligent, headstrong, and perceptive protagonist, as well as meaning-laden flashbacks and stretches of silence to convey emotion. Edgerton is also outstanding as Vera’s loving brother, Edward, and it is exciting to see him in a completely different role to his two other flashier ones in Kingsman (2014) and Legend (2015) (the latter which Merlin’s Morgan also appears). Harington does not quite have the chemistry needed for his character’s romance with Vera, although their desperate kisses on the train were the pair’s most convincing moments as two lovers unsure of the future. Perhaps Harington is better suited as a mopey romantic lead when he is curly-haired and scruffy-faced as he has done so well (so far) in Game of Thrones. All in all, Testament of Youth is a moving film that manages to bring fresh perspective to World War I and allows Brittain’s words and Vikander’s talents shine.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 violet fields