Film review: Testament of Youth (3 out of 5)

Testament of Youth
Testament of Youth

Like many people, I’ve a fascination with the First World War.

I’ve got numerous books on the topic - however, there’s a glaring omission on the bookshelf.

Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth is considered one of the definitive works on the Great War and the emotional toll it piled on many people, but particuarly women.

Surprisingly, this is the first movie version of the first part of her autobiography (there’s been a radio and TV version).

Director James Kent, best known for TV series The White Queen and Marchlands, does a pretty good job with a rather difficult subject.

And here’s the problem - how do you portray emotional distress and despair that is beyond all comprehension.

Because, let’s face it, Vera Brittain suffered more than most of us in 21st Century Britain can possibly imagine.

Alicia Vikander does an excellent job as Brittain and in any other year might well be picking up an award or two.

Dominic West and Emily Watson provide good support as her parents and Miranda Richardson is as solid as ever as a university professor.

Particularly good, though, are Kit Harington as Brittain’s fiancee Roland, Taron Egerton as her brother Edward and BBC TV’s Merlin Colin Morgan as her friend Victor.

The first half sees Vera attempt to get to university (a tough task in pre WWI GB) and her growing fondness for Roland.

The closeness of her relationship with Roland and Edward only serves to make the second half incredibly tough.

As this is viewed through Vera’s eyes we don’t see much in the way of battle sequences but we do see some pretty grim scenes of the aftermath as nurses and doctors try to operate on and cope with hordes of casualties.

This movie was always going to be a tough task and you have to commend the director and writer Juliette Towhidi for a noble effort that will bring a lump into the throat of most people.

There’s also some nice touches with camera work and intense close-ups.

And it all reminds me that I need to fill that obvious gap on my First World War shelf.

Film details: Testament of Youth (12A) 129mins

Director: James Kent

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Emily Watson, Kit Harington

Screening courtesy of Horsham Capitol