UK Release Date: 16th January 2015
Runtime: 130 minutes
Director: James Kent
Writer: Juliette Towhidi
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Colin Morgan, Taron Egerton, Emily Watson, Dominic West, Joanna Scanlan
Synopsis: A precocious young woman has her hopes at both university education and true love dashed by the onset of the First World War.
There’s a, mostly justified, cynicism around British period dramas. They are often stuffy, lifeless and more interested in petticoats than plotlines. However, last year’s Belle injected real life into the genre – life that continues to mature in sophisticated WW1 drama Testament of Youth.
Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander) is a young woman who works incredibly hard in order to get the same university opportunities as her brother Edward (Taron Egerton), under the sceptical supervision of her father (Dominic West). Having rebuffed the advances of friend Victor (Colin Morgan) for years, Vera’s mistrust of love is challenged by the arrival of Roland (Kit Harington) weeks before the beginning of the First World War.
Testament of Youth wouldn’t work at all without the terrific central performance from woman-of-the-moment Alicia Vikander. She is both heart-breaking and heart-warming as Vera, whose initially resistant spikiness is broken down by her burgeoning love for Roland. She effortlessly depicts every facet of Vera’s rounded personality, including her final transformation into anti-war activist at the film’s climax.
| "Our generation will never be new again. Our youth has been stolen from us."
Unfortunately, Vikander’s brilliance doesn’t carry over into the rest of the cast. Testament of Youth is plagued by charisma-free work from Merlin star Colin Morgan and Kit Harington – no one’s favourite character from Game of Thrones. The male performers in general are a real disappointment, failing to create much depth to their characters, especially once they’re shipped off to France to fight.
Fortunately, the film is far more interested in its central character. Vera Brittain’s story is truly remarkable and Testament of Youth is a handsomely shot journey through all of her personal struggles. Director James Kent has a real handle on Vera’s story, even if he shies away from depicting much of the conflict itself. He excels more in some of the later scenes, in which Vera is tasked with nursing the wounds of injured soldiers, with impressively visceral results.
Testament of Youth – outside of Vera’s war experiences – veers more towards a standard romantic melodrama. It is in the romantic exchanges between Harington and Vikander that the film loses its energy and conviction. Neither the Game of Thrones star, nor the limply written script, is up to making it work.
| "How many generations get the chance to be involved in something like this?"
Ultimately, there’s not much worth taking away from Testament of Youth, but its razor-sharp, poignant central performance marks the arrival of a true star. Testament of Youth is an unremarkable war film, but Alicia Vikander has a glittering future ahead of her.
Pop or Poop?
Dipped in an enormous, syrupy helping of period pomposity, Testament of Youth is a perfectly solid war movie, despite the rather inert male performances.
Alicia Vikander is genuinely terrific in the lead role as Vera Brittain, bringing real nuance to the character as her role in the conflict changes. The film is the first of a trio of roles in which the young actress knocks it out of the park, cementing herself as a star for the future.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.