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Testament of Youth

Testament of Youth

Released 16 January 2015
Director James Kent

Hayley Atwell, Dominic West, Kit Harington, Alicia Vikander, Colin Morgan, Miranda Richardson, Emily Watson, Taaron Egerton
Writer(s) Juliette Towhidi
Producer(s) Rosie Alison, David Heyman
Origin United Kingdom
Running Time 129 minutes
Genre Biography, drama, history
Rating 12A

Memento mori.

The 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War 1 was marked beautifully, not by that horribly tacky Sainsbury’s ad but with an army of ceramic poppies surrounding the Tower of London. It was a touching tribute to the almost incomprehensible loss of life that marked that conflict. Testament of Youth comes close to that spectacle in providing a heartfelt and powerful reminder of how a whole generation of young men and women were decimated by war.

Based on the memoirs of Vera Brittain, the film begins during an idyllic summer in which Vera (Alicia Vikander) and her dear brother Edward (Taron Egerton) are joined by his school friends Victor (Colin Morgan) and Roland (Kit Harington) at their country home. The four become fast friends and spend the summer discussing their plans to attend Oxford in the Autumn. However, as summer ends and war breaks out, it is only Vera who makes it to the prestigious school as her friends head to combat. The film follows Vera and her three boys as war throws them asunder.

Director James Kent has primarily worked in television but here he makes the move to the big screen effortlessly, marrying intimate storytelling with beautiful visuals. It would almost be impossible to make a film about these memoirs without them being deeply moving but the film never feels as if it is striving to wring tears from its audience. The overall tone may be one of sadness and loss but it never feels manipulative. One image in particular will stay with me - that of a group of women left behind on a train platform having waved away the men in their life, most of whom will never return.

The glowing presence at the heart of the film is Vikander. Anyone who has seen her performance in A Royal Affair will be familiar with her luminous screen presence. Her performance here is beautifully balanced, powerful in its mixture of passion and restraint. The cast around her are all of the highest quality; Kent even manages to wring a human performance from Kit Harington, a fact that will come as a surprise to anyone who had the misfortune of seeing him in Pompeii.

Testament of Youth is an eloquent, moving piece of filmmaking that shows the horrors of World War 1 through the eyes of a woman who stood on its fringes and lost so much to the cause.

- Linda O’Brien