Testament of Youth
Directed by James Kent
Written by Juliette Towhidi
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Colin Morgan, Dominic West, Emily Watson, Hayley Atwell, and Taron Egerton
At the outbreak of the First World War a young Oxford student, Vera Brittain (Vikander), joins the English war effort as a nurse. Brittain’s work as a nurse in London and at the front treating soldiers on both sides of the conflict leads her to become a leading voice in the pacifist movement after the war.
Testament of Youth is part romance, part period drama, and part war story. The film succeeds in all three of these aspects. The romance between Vikander and Harington is well developed, and the two actors had fantastic chemistry. The love story manages to be an important part of the overall narrative without being the movie central focus. As a period drama, Testament of Youth had a great feel for the period. You could tell that Brittain was pushing the envelope for what was expected of women at the time. She was active in pursuing her education at Oxford, and in wanting to be an active part of the English war effort. The film does make mention of the socially acceptable for women in English society during the early twentieth century and lets you know that Brittain is acting these social norms. Testament of Youth is also a war story, a war story that leaves out the war part. The film instead focuses on the effects of war on those who do not necessarily see combat. Removing the battle from the story allows Testament of Youth to tell the drama from the home front and the tragedy of war from behind the scenes, so to speak.
While Testament of Youth succeeds in many of its aspects, the movie does have specific shortcomings. One is that the romance between Harington and Vikander blossoms too quickly. When Harington’s character is introduced at the start of the film, it appears as if the relationship between him and Vikander had been preexisting. The movie gives the romance no time to blossom, although the romance developed well throughout the rest of the film. The other primary shortcoming of Testament of Youth was that it glosses over how Vera Brittain had become a leading pacifist voice. It is left to the blurb at the end of the movie to make any mention of it. The events of the film did not lead to the conclusion that she would become a dominant pacifist voice. Brittain’s experiences during the war did not differ much from anyone else and the film needed to spend more time developing that part of Brittain’s character.
Testament of Youth exceeds in many of its aspects that make it a strong film in its genre, although there places where the movie comes up lacking. Also, as a fun little side note there is a shot in the film that director, James Kent, used to allude to the famous crane shot in Gone with the Wind. Testament of Youth receives 3.5/5.