Testament of Youth
dir James Kent
scr Juliette Towhidi
prd Rosie Alison, David Heyman
with Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Emily Watson, Dominic West, Miranda Richardson, Hayley Atwell, Colin Morgan, Taron Egerton, Henry Garrett, Jonathan Bailey, Anna Chancellor, Joanna Scanlan
release UK 16.Jan.15
14/UK BBC 2h10
Testament of Youth
Wartome romance: Harington and Vikander

watson west richardson
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Testament of Youth Vera Brittain's iconic memoir gets the full British period drama treatment, although it's so lovingly crafted that it struggles to spring to life. It's beautifully shot and acted but, especially in the final third, the film is almost painfully worthy, wallowing in its emotions rather than finding something resonant in the story.

As a feisty 20-year-old, Vera (Vikander) has to badger her parents (Watson and West) to get a chance to sit entrance exams at Oxford in 1914. She also has to convince them to allow her brother Edward (Egerton) to sign up for military service as war breaks out in Europe. Then her sweetheart Roland (Harington) and two close friends (Morgan and Bailey) also enlist. And knowing that they're at risk makes studying impossible. So she leaves university to volunteer as a nurse, serving in both Britain and in France for the rest of the war.

The story's opening scenes establish the characters with subtlety and a bit of spark, eliciting strong performances from young actors who manage to be cheeky and energetic while also suitably repressed. At the centre, Vikander is an especially strong presence, a forceful woman who watches the world change around her. As she witnesses the carnage of war, Vikander does a terrific job balancing Vera's growing resolve with her worn-out emotional life.

Vikander also generates considerable chemistry with Harington, playing nicely against his Game of Thrones type, as a respectable young man trying to control his romantic passions. Watson and West are superb but rather underused, as are Egerton, Morgan and Bailey. But Richardson adds some lovely texture in her scenes as a prickly Oxford professor who takes a shine to Vera. And Atwell brings some spark as a fellow nurse on the frontline.

Director Kent films this in a lush style that never overwhelms the story. The period details are kept nicely in the (admittedly gorgeous) background, while characters and their feelings are brought to the forefront. The problem is that as the war wears everyone down, the film descends into a murky gloom that it never quite recovers from. The final act is appropriately maudlin, but the filmmakers' desperate efforts to inject some hope and positivity feel somewhat forced. Although in that sense Brittain's pacifist message comes through loud and clear.

cert 12 themes, violence 14.Oct.14

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Testament of Youth Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall