Based on the WWI memoir of Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth follows Brittain (Alicia Vikander) as she goes from young girl in search of knowledge and a place at Oxford, as she grows and changes as she lives through the war and loses those closest to her.
Released just after the centenary of WWI, Testament of Youth looks at the war through the eyes of a young, educated woman as she tries to come to terms with the effect that death and destruction has on her, and what she can do to support her family, and feel as though she is contributing to the war effort. Alicia Vikander, as Vera Brittain, is the heart and soul of the film. She allows Brittain to change slowly throughout the course of the film, and her performance – with its gleeful highs and devastating lows – feels utterly believable and complex.
Kit Harington plays Roland Leighton, and his performance underlines the effect that the conflict had on the men at the Front. As well as Harington, the cast is filled with recognisable faces, including Dominic West, Emily Watson, Anna Chancellor and Miranda Richardson. Each give strong performances in their roles, no matter how small, and add to the rich and vibrant landscape of the film.
If there were to be a complaint about Testament of Youth, it would be this; there are times when the film feels a little rudderless. The performances, directed by James Kent, remain strong throughout, but the story often wanders and meanders, since it is trying to tell the story of war from far behind the front lines. Screenwriter Juliette Towhidi seems to have been so intent on keeping the important moments from the memoir in the film, that the film often feels as though it is a collection of beautifully shot and lyrical scenes put together, without much of a story – other than this being true – to hold it together.
Testament of Youth is a beautifully shot film, anchored by Alicia Vikander’s incredibly layered and detailed performance. Part romance, part melodrama, part survival tale, Testament of Youth is an examination of love and loss, which could have done with a stronger through line in order for it to work to its full potential.