Testament of Youth

Directed by James Kent
Starring Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan, Dominic West, Emily Watson, Hayley Atwell, Anna Chancellor
In UK Cinemas January 16th, 2015

by Amanda Farley

Testament of Youth is James Kent’s first feature film and it is beautiful and heartbreaking and just plain wonderful.

Opening with the celebrations for Armistice Day the story then rewinds four years to the summer of 1914. Where we are introduced to Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander), a young woman determined to follow her literary ambitions and study at Oxford University. Overcoming the opposition of her father (Dominic West) with the help of her beloved brother Edward (Taron Egerton) she is allowed to sit the entrance exam.

Life seems perfect, particularly as she is also busy falling in love aspiring writer Roland Leighton (Kit Harington). That is until Britain declares war on Germany and the idyllic world of pre-war Britain vanishes. Replaced by fear, final farewells and telegrams of lost lives. As the men head to the front Vera is unable to remain behind with her books. Putting her studies on hold she enrolls as a nurse and places herself as close to her loved ones as she can.

Kent presents a film that not only deals with the terrible loss that is inevitable with war but also of the female experience within that. He creates a world of beauty while never forgetting the horror that underpins it. He is assisted in this by the skill of Rob Hardy and Max Richter.

Hardy yields his camera like an artists brush, creating intricate images that capture the imagination and bring the world he is depicting into a heightened state of existence. This is not just a film, it is a love poem to a lost generation. While Richter’s sensational score adds splendor, gravitas and subtlety to the images on screen. There is a delicacy to his work that pervades through even in the darkest of moments and which binds the overall feeling of the film.

A feeling of intimacy. The characters feel personal and open. Through the use of their poetry and letters, the audience is allowed to look into their very souls. To see their true beauty and to know their thoughts, loves and hidden desires. What is most striking though is that none of it feels forced. Kent’s background in documentary making serves him well. There is an authenticity in what he has crafted that helps to make us believe in these people and to open our hearts to them.

Vikander’s star quality is obvious on screen. She effortlessly balances Vera’s likability with her unyielding certainty of what is right and we can’t help but fall in love with her version of this iconic hero. She brings her to life with such intelligence, vivacity and spirit that the audience fall completely under the character’s spell.

Kent’s version of Vera’s memories is a retelling for this generation. He has reworked the story for a new era and ensured that the lives of those lost live on in our memories.

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