Testament Of Youth

Art & Culture

I guess there is no better time to revisit Vera Brittain's wonderful memoir of her life before, during and after WW1, than the 100th anniversary of that conflict. It was first adapted in 1979 as TV series, but this new film captures the whole story in two hours, and does so very well.

It was a curious casting choice for a Swedish actress to be selected to play a quintessentially English woman, but if Felicity Jones wasn't available, then Alicia Vikander is an excellent alternative, without a trace of an accent, and a screen presence which has already ensured that you will be seeing a lot of her in 2015 (check out her IMDb entry).

Alongside her is Game of Thrones heartthrob Kit Harington as Roland Leighton, her lover/fiance, who signed up to fight for King and Country along with all his friends, a decision which may seem crazy 100 years later, but one which was inevitable at the time. The film has to tread this fine line between what people knew then and what we now know throughout its running time. Fortunately, Brittain's perspective is a fresh one, so rather than having to witness the horrors of the trenches for the umpteenth time, we see the war from the perspective of someone who couldn't fight, but who felt unable to continue her academic career while hundreds of thousands of men were dying.

The book – an autobiographical account of her life from 1900-1925 – was originally conceived of as a novel, but Brittain was unable to reconcile the needs of fiction to telling her story as she wished to, and the book is all the better for being such a personal account of her experiences and losses. It is a feminist work in the sense that it gives primacy to the female experience, and a hundred years after the events in the book/film, it is a sad reflection on the movie business that the film is still unusual for the fact that the main character through whose eyes we see events, is a woman. 

Although the film could easily have lapsed into heritage cinema (think of Downton Abbey as the worst example of that tendency, even though it is TV), it has enough heart and emotion to carry us through, along with the strength of Vikander as the central character. Well worth seeing.


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