Testament of Youth (opens April 24)
Dir: James Kent
Vera Brittain’s 1933 600 page novel Testament of Youth is often regarded as one of the most well-known memoirs about the experience of World War One. Written from the perspective of a non-combatant, Brittain traces her journey towards adopting a philosophy of pacifism. As a nurse caring for soldiers from both sides of the conflict at home and in France, Brittain saw the deaths of many and it changed her profoundly.
James Kent’s film of the book is a period piece from the BBC and focussing as it does on a woman’s experience of war, it manages to stand out against the plethora of films about that era. It manages to strike a careful balance between the relationships of the characters and the ever present aura of international conflict.
Alicia Vikander who has acquitted herself well in other period pieces such as A Royal Affair and Anna Karenina, absolutely inhabits the role of Brittain, both headstrong and compassionate and always at odds with the roles the society of the time proscribed for her. One can expect a career of some renown from her. Veering from his most well known role as the dour Jon Snow in HBO’s Game of thrones, Kit Harrington plays the romantic lead with an endearing grin, making the heartache of his character’s destiny palpable.
A story like this one could be ruled by big emotional moments, but Kent successfully understates where others would go all out with orchestral stabs and tears. There is an art to such understatement. Too underplayed and the characters can appear stiff and unengaging. This film walks that fine line well, drawing on its cultural reservoirs to tell a story that grows in stature with reflection.