Review: Testament of Youth

This beautiful film based on the memoirs of Vera Brittain examines love, grief and how to keep going when it seems that all hope is gone, through the eyes of one young woman’s story. 

Alicia Vikander stars as Vera, a young woman who is headstrong and wants to become a writer. But what follows is a painful story of how reality and life gets in the way – particularly when a World War comes along.

Although the film, wonderfully and sensitively directed by James Kent, begins initially with hope and dreams, it ultimately becomes deeper than that emotionally with the terror and grief that Vera is forced to face in the second half of the film.

It isn’t a film that hides away from the pain and sorrow that many families suffered when finding out about their loved ones or from the horrific physical and mental injuries suffered by those proud to serve their country. But it never overemphasises it, rather letting the characters, in particular Vera, express it naturally and so is all the more painful to watch.

The relationship between Vera (Alicia Vikander) and Roland (Kit Harington) is complicated from the beginning and filled with misunderstandings that gradually builds into something more, until war gets in the way. Together, Vikander and Harington have a great chemistry that works to show that their conflicting personalities actually in fact brings them together – as one wonderfully played scene on the beach after Roland comes back on leave proves.

James Kent’s film is a fitting tribute to the men who went off to war as well as those left behind fearing what was happening. Each scene, particularly the scenes where Vera is nursing captures without sentimentalising too much the harshness and reality of war vividly and at times difficult to watch because of it.

At times, it is difficult to really engage with what is happening as the film dives into the story with no real build up and the audience has to catch on very quickly to each situation. While this means Testament of Youth is a sharp and focused film, it also results in the audience being emotionally disengaged with what is happening.

Yet it can not be denied that it is an extraordinarily powerful film with plenty of heart and emotion, teaching us that while grief is perfectly natural it is the way in which we are able to carry on regardless whether there is hope or not and the resilience of the human spirit as portrayed perfectly by Alicia Vikander.


The Testament of Youth is available on DVD now


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