Testament Of Youth is a dramatisation of the memoirs of famed pacifist Vera Brittain. Her story is a powerful and heartbreaking one to tell. It’s just a shame that first-time director James Kent fails to bring it to life.
Alicia Vikander portrays Brittain as she watches her fiancé Roland (Kit “You Know Nothing” Harington) leave France to fight in World War I, along with her brother Edward (Taron Egerton) and friends Geoffrey (Jonathan Bailey) and Victor (Colin Morgan). The story follows her as she joins the fight as a frontline nurse, giving up her studies at Oxford University to get closer to her loved ones in France.
Premiering at the BFI London Film Festival in the year of the centenary of the start of the war, giving the story additional poignancy, the underlying themes of the film are no less true today. We see Brittain in all her inspirational glory, fighting for her beliefs and showing resilience in the face of adversity.
But it is far from a perfect film. Perhaps one of the most distracting parts of the feature is Kit Harington. Known a little for his modelling work but quite a lot more for his role as Jon Snow in HBO’s episodic epic Game of Thrones, he failed to ignite anything but boredom in me as I watched him try to manage a deep gamut of emotions whilst just looking a bit lost and out of place.
The pacing of the film was another downside. I think the tendency with these wartime biopics is to draw them out and allow them space to breathe, but I’m sure this could have been cut slightly. Alternatively, if they wanted to give the story more time to develop, they could have opted for a more appropriate mini-series. Oh wait…
Vikander’s accent needed work. She is of Swedish origin and clearly hasn’t mastered the English nuances yet. You’d have thought that there were better options available, although director Kent has previously stated how thrilled he was that she signed up. Maybe I missed something.
My final bug-bear is the desire to build up sympathy in a character that seemingly has everything. We watch her in the opening scenes have a disagreement with her father because he bought her a grand piano instead of helping fund her to go to university. She storms off out of the room, whilst their maids look on in horror, up the stairs and into her oversized room, which I think was in the East Wing. You get the idea. I just don’t find this sort of thing entertaining as I have no connection to that sort of lifestyle.
The film has tough competition at the box office from Oscar tips Birdman, Foxcatcher, Cake, American Sniper, Whiplash, The Theory of Everything (the list goes on). There are still some huge blockbusters too in The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, Into The Woods, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One, Paddington and How To Train Your Dragon 2. And Dumb and Dumber To is still on. I’m sure this film won’t be overlooked when it hits home media releases later this year, but I can’t see why they’re releasing it in awards season. It needs more help than that.
Testament of Youth is released in UK cinemas on 16th January 2015.