"Testament of Youth"
Release Date: July 3, 2015
Running Time: 129 minutes
Testament of Youth offers a mostly unaffecting account of World War I as seen through the eyes of a privileged British woman who refused to stay at home while her loved ones fought in France. Ex Machina’s Alicia Vikander stars as Vera Brittain in this adaptation of the author’s 1933 memoir, which focused on her decision to leave Oxford to serve as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse close to the frontlines in France. Directed with emotional restraint by James Kent, Testament of Youth initially begins as a by-the-numbers portrait of a woman who fights to find her place in a man’s world. She wants to study at Oxford so she can become a writer. Testament of Youth makes a lot of noise about Vera’s ambitions—rightly so because a woman of her day obviously was expected to marry and sire kids—but the film offers very little in the way of resistance to her bid to take the Oxford entry exam. When Europe descends into chaos, Testament of Youth turns its attention to Vera’s desire to contribute to the war effort as a nurse, first at home and then in France. Vera goes about the business of caring for the wounded while worrying about the lives of her brother Edward (Kingsman’s Taron Egerton) and her fiancé Roland Leighton (Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington). Roland is positioned as Vera’s intellectual equal and vocal advocate, but the wishy-washy Harington carries himself as a little boy in a soldier’s uniform. He’s no match for Vikander, who strides through Testament of Youth with reasoned defiance and a fierce sense of purpose. However, if Vikander isn’t able to show off much of the “original mind” Vera is supposed to possessed, it’s because Kent and screenwriter Juliette Towhidi struggle to find Vera’s outside of her relationship to her friends and family. She’s never allowed to come into her own until the war is over and the losses she has experiences leads her to form the pacifist views that she would maintain and advance for the rest of her life. For the most part, Kent rightly holds back from taking us to the frontlines. This is Vera’s story, so the closest she get to the horror of war is through the soldiers whom she treats. Only once, through, does Kent allow Vera to become overwhelmed by the death she encounters daily. She wanders through a field strewn with dead or dying British soldiers during a mustard gas attack. It’s a powerful, defining moment in a film that sadly lacks the strength and fortitude of the woman it seeks to celebrate.
Aired: July 2, 2015
Web site: http://sonyclassics.com/testamentofyouth/