Testament of Youth – A Review

Testament of Youth seems like a weepy, World War 1 melodrama. It seems respectable. There’s a small moment where the main character’s father (Dominic West) is seeing his son off to war. As they’re leaving the train station he lingers, looking at a notice on the wall. Our heroine falls back to fetch him and sees him weeping, looking at a timetable. Even when it’s patently obvious, even when she’s seen him, he can’t acknowledge what’s happening; he can’t bring himself to just say how shit this is. The patriarch instead smothers his face in a handkerchief and wails. Anything else would be improper. He’s respectable.
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The film is full of characters who don’t have the vocabulary or ability to shout ‘Stop’ or face what is happening. The lead, played by Alicia Vikander, watches the men in her life march off to an imperial clusterfuck one by one. She eventually decides to help by becoming a nurse and seeing to the wounded men.

The film is based on Vera Brittain’s pacifist memoir of the same name. It gives you a good insight into the madness of a self mutilating, early 20th century ruling class diligently tramping off to suicide.

There is naff stuff during the runtime. The romance between the lead and Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones) feels flat. For someone so dreamy he is not a charming actor and their lack of chemistry shows. Also, at times it does feel like a fashion film. Some sequences feel all light and air; hot young people frolicking in lens flare. It’s pretty, but a bit too much.

For every one of these bits there are genuinely touching moments. Vera comforting a dying German is one such moment and the story, in an odd way, pivots on this scene.

Saying that the First World War was shite is hardly an interesting stance but credit to James Kent, the director here. He’s managed to make something that could have been boringly respectable into something quite moving.