Vera Brittain fights the repressive attitudes of pre-WW1 British society, including her parents who argue that she should not be going to university to study, but instead concentrating her efforts on finding a decent man to marry. She is a bright, determined young woman who gains entry to Oxford just as she falls for a man on the eve of the First World War. Brittain is forced into making the difficult decision of abandoning her studies that she worked so hard for, in order to support the man she loves and her only brother who have gone to fight at the front in France.
Based on Brittain’s memoir of her experiences during the war, Testament of Youth is an incredibly potent anti-war film where very little fighting is actually glimpsed. Forget those ‘war is hell’ movies that dwell on the blood, guts and gory glory, Brittain’s story swims in the waters of the women like Vera who were left at home to pick up the pieces. A traumatised, devastated generation were born out of the trenches and while the men leaped at the chance to fight for their country, the women who made incredible sacrifices and nursed the wounded both at home and at the front are undoubtedly just as heroic.
Alicia Vikander, so impressive in Ex Machina (also out in January), delivers a heart breaking performance as Brittain. From driven young woman to tragic heroine to fierce pacifist, Brittain endures incredible hardship and Vikander never puts a foot wrong even with the camera clamped to frequent close ups on her face. Kit Harington is also striking, making a decent break from his best known role in Game of Thrones, and the rest of the supporting cast, including Taron Egerton, Miranda Richardson and Dominic West also get effective moments to shine.
It’s a shame that the real story is not considered emotional enough, without going for a couple of clichés like having a tragedy occurring on a wedding day. Nevertheless, this is an incredibly moving story, driven by a brilliant performance from Vikander and a vital message that still resonates tragically today.
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