It wasn’t long ago that the last surviving veteran of World War I passed away. However thanks to the medium of cinema, and in this instance, James Kent’s remarkable and affecting drama Testament of Youth, those that served their country are immortalised on screen, ensuring that their memories are never forgotten.
In this instance it’s a true story of Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander), based upon her memoirs from the devastating time. Though desperate to leave home and study, Vera’s ambitions are interrupted and put on hold when the war breaks out, and when her brother Edward (Taron Egerton) and partner Roland (Kit Harington) are sent off to fight, she strives to be of more help. So she becomes a nurse, and it’s within this vocation that she discovers the true horrors of war, all the while anxiously concerned about the well-being of her loved ones.
First and foremost it’s fascinating to delve into this period of time from an outside perspective, at least where combat is concerned. So often with war movies the audience are down in the trenches with our protagonists, and we often forget about those suffering back on home soil. The wives, the mothers, the nurses – they too are going through the motions, and living through these horrors just as everybody else is, and we can take that for granted. In fact, this outside perspective works well, as it gives us a broader picture of the First World War as we see so many facets to it, and the effects it had on everybody at the time. Consequently a real sense of futility is conveyed in this movie, but it’s never obtrusive, always remaining subtle in its execution. Much of this is thanks to the director’s vision and delicate handling of the source material – being a man who has created disquieting documentaries on the Holocaust and 9/11, and knows how to trigger emotions from his viewers, all the while remaining educational and compelling.
Kent is blessed to work with a fine cast in this instance, with Egerton, Harington and the likes of Dominic West, Emily Watson and Colin Morgan all impressing. But it’s the lead, Vikander, who takes all of the plaudits, and deservedly so, with such a graceful screen presence. She may not be a household name yet, but with another exceptional turn, it certainly won’t be long until she is.