The Virtues of Vera

Testament of Youth

testament_of_youth_ver2

Director: James Kent

Cast: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harrington, Taron Egerton, Emily Watson, Dominic West, Hayley Atwell, Miranda Richardson, Colin Morgan, Joanna Scanlan

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander has come a long way from her vivacious debut  as Kitty in Joe Wright’s film Anna Karenina.

In director James Kent’s film adaptation of the 1930’s novel Testament of Youth, Vikander plays aspiring novelist and soon to be pacifist Vera Brittain. The film opens in an idyllic setting  resembling an English summer garden with Vera and her brother Edward played by rising star Taron Egerton, last seen in Legend along with his friends Victor Richardson played by Colin Morgan and the dashing Roland Leighton, wonderfully played by Kit Harrington of the hit HBO TV series Game of Thrones.

As a petulant young woman, Brittain objects to her father buying her a piano and strongly presents her case to her parents played by Emily Watson and Dominic West that all she really desires is to go to Oxford and study literature and classics.

testament_of_youth

At the outset of Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain is portrayed as a strong-minded young woman who was extremely close to her brother Edward and his group of friends which were all destined to study at Oxford. Destiny has different plans when in 1914, Europe is plunged into the bloody and brutal First World War, which initially everyone who enlisted thought would only lost a couple of months.

Her brother and his friends all enrol into the British army and go and fight in France, in the muddy trenches and soon the War develops into a brutal protracted affair. Vera soon abandons her plans for Oxford and enrols to be a nurse to assist the war effort.

Unlike Joe Wright’s brilliant and beautiful adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement about doomed love during the Second World War, Testament of Youth does not maintain the same emotional resonance although dealing with similar themes. Vikander holds her own as the passionate and outspoken Vera Brittain.

Her quest to find her brother Edward, leads her to the front lines in France in 1917 where she is forced to take care not only for wounded British soldiers but also for the wounded and dying German soldiers, making her realize that despite the politics, war effects everyone equally, a devastating loss for both the victorious and defeated nations.

Which is precisely why over a hundred years later, Armistice Day is still celebrated on the 11th November as a commemoration of those countless lives sacrificed during World War 1 and a warning about the perils of embarking on future wars which is especially relevant in the conflict strewn geo-political arena of the 21st century.

After World War 1, Vera Brittain became a vocal pacifist and an anti-war campaigner. She dealt with her huge grief by publishing all the letters of her brother and his friends as well as her own memoirs in 1933 of that horrific time during the war, where she witnessed the brutality and infinite loss of life first hand as a nurse.

Testament of Youth is a fascinating look at the naivety of war through the eyes of a generation which were obliterated by its devastating effects. At some point the film, does not manage to maximise the emotional resonance, which films like Atonement and The English Patient did so brilliantly.

Nevertheless Testament of Youth remains a damning anti-war indictment and an accurate historical portrait of a lost generation, right down to the soft focus production design and period costumes.

Audiences should look out for cameo appearances by Hayley Atwell (Brideshead Revisited) as well as Miranda Richardson (The Young Victoria, Damage) as the stern Oxford professor who recognizes Vera Brittain’s potential as a young writer. Recommended viewing for ardent fans of historical cinema.

Source: Vera Brittain

 

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