Sunday, 12 July 2015
Movie review: Testament of Youth (2015)
In 1914, Vera Brittain, daughter of a factory owner spends the summer with her beloved brother Edward and his friends Victor and Roland. She is preparing to go to Oxford after her father has finally allowed her to study there. Though she always professed to have no interest in marriage, she still falls for Roland. Then WWI breaks out and everything changes. The young men sign up and go to the Front and Vera is left to worry. She decides to give up her studies and work as a nurse.
Testament of Youth is based on the best-selling memoir by Vera Brittain, published in 1933. Her book was called 'the voice of a generation' and 'the best war memoir' and details not only the war as such, but also the impact it had on the women staying behind.
This is a very moving story which shows the deep influence of WWI very well. Unlike many WWI 'classics', it does so not through the eyes of a man in the trenches, but through the eyes of a young woman which gives you a new insight into the 'homefront' of the War. Vera is a very interesting character; intelligent, brave, but also naïve and a bit spoiled. She goes through a lot of development in the movie, overcoming many trials. As a main character, Vera is easy to identify with for 21st century people. This is definitely in great part due to the amazing acting of Alicia Vikander. The originally Danish actress really embodies Vera and brings her strength, but also her vulnerability to life. Next to that, she really looks the part. Some actresses/actors just have a period 'look', you know?
There are many familiar faces of the British acting world in this movie and people will no doubt want to go see this movie for Kit Harington of Game of Thrones fame. I liked Harington in the role of Vera's love interest Roland, especially their courting scenes were very cute. I was most impressed by newcomer Taron Egerton as Vera's brother Edward. He was the epitome of the fresh-faced young men who went to war singing, but came back broken.
Testament of Youth is one of those impossibly pretty British movies with beautiful costumes and artfully shot scenes of the countryside and the beautiful city of Oxford. Though I definitely enjoyed all the pretty, sometimes I wondered if it wasn't a bit much. There was one scene of Vera walking between lace curtains hanging to dry which was almost over the top. What this does highlight though, is the contrast between the first and the second half of the movie. Where the first part is all freshness, light and colours, the second part is very noticeably darker. This strengthens the message of the movie about the war changing everything.
It should come as no surprise that Testament of Youth is a very sad movie. I think you must have a heart of stone not to be touched by the death of so many young men and the sorrow of the girlfriends, wives and mothers back in England. Still, this movie did not impress me as much as I expected to be impressed. First I thought this might be because I have seen and read too many WWI stories in the last years. And indeed, while watching Testament of Youth I did sometimes feel like 'I know this story already'. But I also read a review about this movie in a Dutch newspaper saying Testament of Youth was playing it too safe to really impress. I think this might be partly true. On the one hand, Testament of Youth is definitely not afraid to show the war up close, not like Downton Abbey which happily glossed over 90% of the war. Still, most poignant moments are filmed in bird's eye view or are overlaid with music or poetry. These techniques make you feel separated from the story in a way. I'm actually very curious to read Vera Brittain's book on which this movie is based, to see how this would impact me.
After this technical musings (;-) ) I just want to say: Testament of Youth is a movie definitely worth seeing and thinking about for everyone interested in WWI or costume drama in general.