by Mark Wilshin
Following his previous film The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, James Kent returns with a fully fledged feature based on the memoirs of Vera Brittain’s Testament Of Youth. With so many strange turns of events, it makes for a fascinating film as through Vera’s eyes, we charter her course from 1914 to the Armistice in November 1918, as Vera (Alicia Vikander) does battle with her parents (Dominic West and Emily Watson) to attend Oxford University before falling in love with Roland Leighton (Kit Harington) and signing up as a VAD nurse. It’s a well crafted story of a feminist and would-be suffragette struggling for equality in a man’s world, who doing her duty in the hospitals behind the front lines at the Somme, cares for “Hun” soldiers and becomes an outspoken pacifist, tending the wounded shot by her own countrymen. It’s beautifully photographed, costumed, acted and a genuinely moving film, and the many coincidences in Brittain’s wartime life make Testament Of Youth a compelling watch. It’s foremost a film of female empowerment, and there’s little room for the many asides briefly touched upon – her grief and guilt only processed after the war, her brother’s homosexuality or even the Great War itself as her experience of nursing is undercut by the necessity of the script. But as a woman’s depiction of serving one’s country in defence of the homeland, Testament Of Youth is a gripping theatre of war.
Testament Of Youth is showing on Oct 14th, 16th & 17th at the 58th BFI London Film Festival