Testament of Youth
This adaptation of the bestselling memoir by Vera Brittain is as predictable as it is affecting, making for a sensitively told but strangely bloodless account of love devastated by war.
On the eve of World War One, a well-to-do provincial English family is in crisis: their tempestuous daughter Vera (Alicia Vikander, A Royal Affair) would rather attend Oxford than be given a grand piano to showcase her musical talent. In an era where her brother is by right of birth entitled to take this scholastic path but the young woman’s place is more desirably at home, Vera’s self-determining domestic attitude will soon be mirrored in the actions of many women in the face of the pending war.
What’s more, just as the independent spirit declares to her disgruntle-faced father (The Wire’s Dominic West, using his inborn posh British voice) that she’ll never marry, who should walk in the front door but Kit Harington, her brother’s dashing school chum. Even if you’ve not seen the poster (tagline: Divided by war. United by love.), the signposting of events is unashamedly blunt.
The pair do make a compelling couple, Vikander beautiful, proud and rude against the soft, clean-shaven and eternally smiley Harington (Game of Thrones groupies will hardly recognise him), and their courtship, under the watchful eye of a matronly chaperone, is delightful. Then, as the men depart to serve their country, Vera’s priorities shift and she goes off on her own horrific adventure.
Published in 1933, Brittain’s book was heralded for showing the impact of war on the female population, and Testament of Youth bars no holds narratively in listing the various horrors. But while the story calls to mind Atonement with its heroines working behind the warring scenes as penance for their menfolk’s sacrifice, somehow this film adaptation pales in comparative emotional impact.