Testament of Youth is an adaptation of the memoirs of the same name by Vera Brittain. The book has been cited as one of the most descriptive of the impact of the First World War with regard to women. The film was directed by James Kent, a veteran of TV, who has previously worked on The White Queen and The Thirteenth Tale for the BBC, with Testament of Youth as his first feature film.
Set in the early 1900s leading up to and including World War One, the film takes in Vera’s early twenties, starting with her attempts to go to Oxford and then moves on to her joining the nurses tending the wounded from battle. Vera is played by Alicia Vikander, a relative newcomer to British cinema, although her previous works include Anna Karenina and A Royal Affair. Vikander’s acting in the film is fantastic, and her accent near flawless. The scene in which she is going through the belongings of her fiancé is a truly emotional moment within the film and the tragedy of the situation is perfectly conveyed through that and the cinematography of the scene.
The rest of the cast includes many other big British names, such as Hayley Atwell as the nurse Vera works with on the front lines, Dominic West as her father, and Kit Harington as Roland Leighton, her fiancé. Harington’s role as Vera’s love is somewhat wooden. He plays the part well enough, but can’t quite seem to make it his own, which is a shame, considering he is likely to be the main draw for many of the younger viewers as the well known Game of Thrones star.
The film takes great pains to capture some of the more confining aspects that women of the time had to go through. At the beginning of the film, it is Vera’s desire to go to Oxford and receive an education that drives her, despite the prejudice of the time that hampered women from gaining degrees in their chosen studies. It also looks at dating and courting during an era when it was considered “improper” for a woman to be unchaperoned, allowing for a comedic “first date” montage between Vera and Roland.
Testament of Youth is a film that shows potential, just not necessarily in its current medium. The draw of Jon Snow will likely bring in a few curious fans, but the main movie-going audience will likely be older, those who remember stories told by their grandparents and those who have read her memoir.