Testament of Youth shines in describing the passion of the young people it describes, but fails in depicting their pain.
Adapted from the 1933 best-seller of Vera Brittain’s first World War memoirs, Testament of Youth is a film that manages to convey the passion of the young people it describes whilst failing to successfully depict their pain. The film briefly opens on a shot of Vera (Alicia Vikander) sternly walking down the streets of London, whilst the crowd around her cheers and celebrates the end of the war. The audience is then taken back four years earlier, where we find Vera, her brother and his friend Victor playing around a lake. These first couple of shots simply address what the film is about to develop over its two-hour length, the thematic of youth broken down to pieces by war.
The film successfully displays deep and strong characters. From the stubbornness of Vera to the clumsiness of her friend and fiancé Roland (Kit Harington), we soon care for the life of these individuals we’ve just met as they, above all, feel real. The passion of their youth, the ways they sometimes make decisions or jump to conclusions have a strong impact and we cannot help but feel distress for their fate as they run towards a war that, as we know, will be far longer than just a few weeks.
Testament of Youth mainly follows Vera Brittain’s experience of the war and how she decided to get involved as a nurse in London and then to the front, thus putting on hold her studies at Oxford University. We get to feel for her as the war takes away loved ones. War is depicted as a silent and invisible monsters that slowly creeps on people’s lives, however far from the front they find themselves. Actually, the film never shows a fight and solely focuses on the wideness of the war’s damaging impact.
On the downside, the film is probably weaker when depicting this pain. Whilst the narration understandably repeats itself, echoing the repetition of loss war inherently carries, it doesn’t manage to do so in a meaningful way. The narration becomes flawed and sometimes inconsistent, losing its formerly interesting depiction of time. However, the cinematography and the first act allows for a strong film despite its ending that tends to – in a similar vein to the youth it depicts – jump too quickly to its conclusion.
Testament of Youth (2014), directed by James Kent, is distributed on DVD and Blu-ray by Lionsgate, Certificate 12A.