Testament of Youth
War war is stupid…and people are stupid…and I heard them banging on hearts and fingers…
Classic Elsternwick - Sunday 19 April 2015, 4:00pm
Running time: 130m
Country: United Kingdom
Classification: M (War themes, death and bloody injury)
Release date: 23/04/15
Cost: $10 (member screening)
Rating: 9/10 (ME 4.5/5, DP 4.5/5)
Testament of Youth is a thoughtful and beautifully filmed movie based on the early memoirs of the famed pacifist, Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander), a determined and wilful woman with aspirations to succeed at Oxford University and determine her own destiny, while refusing to conform to the expectations of her time and her status. The story begins in the months leading to the outbreak of World War 1, with the privileged life of Vera, her family and friends, beautifully recreated. Vera’s greatest struggle is her fight with her staunchly anti-emancipation father (Dominic West) to allow her to attend Oxford at a time when women of the privileged classes were primarily groomed to be refined ladies and find the right husband. We are also introduced to Vera’s brother Edward (Taron Egerton), their long time friend Victor (Colin Morgan) and a potential love interest for Vera, Roland (Kit Harrington). With the onset of war, their carefree lives are torn apart as each of them become involved in the terrible European conflict. Even Vera makes the decision to leave her hard fought-for place at Oxford, to contribute to the war effort as a nurse, first on home soil and then later on the battlefields of France. From there we are shown the terrible impact that the conflict has on the lives of all, particularly the young and headstrong Vera.
Vikander delivers an impeccable performance that is strong and stubborn, but resoundingly sympathetic. She is a formidable heroine – a pacifist who is in no way passive - and the sort of female character that is usually found missing in war movies. Taron Egerton plays Vera’s rather theatrical and cheeky sibling, bouncing from scene to scene with his posh accent. Kit Harrington, as Vera’s love interest, is rather wet and dull at times early in the film, but hits his straps later as a battle-hardened veteran. Colin Morgan is the best of the boys in the cast, delivering a character who is sweet and pitiable, but stronger and hardened over time, however never quite succeeding to achieve his desires, right through to the very end. In all, these weaker male characters, all thrown into the chaos and turmoil of war and choosing to do so to support Britain’s so called “just war”, provide an ideal counterpoint to the strength of Vera. Miranda Richardson is an admirable addition to the cast in a small but important role as Vera’s scathing Oxford professor, Miss Lorimer.
The period is well captured and this film is shot beautifully, with a brilliant blend created between the visuals and the use of poetry that is intertwined in through the story. A preoccupation with poetry gives Testament of Youth a romantic feel, which sits starkly in contrast with the brutality of war. This contrast is heightened as you compare the beauty, pleasantry and civility of the youngsters’ upbringing with the harshness and violence of the battlefield. At no time did this movie lapse into bland heritage cinema. We are instead provided with a fascinating and fresh perspective, where rather than witness the horrors of war from the trenches for the thousandth time, we see the war from the perspective of someone who couldn’t fight, but felt that she had to do something to support her family, friends and loved ones who were involved; so much so that she put aside her hard fought life’s passion of an academic career to achieve this. This is a beautiful film, playing out with an understated elegance that is haunting, powerful and exhausting at times. Testament of Youth comes highly recommended. (DP)
2nd Golden Thumbs Awards