A long, long time ago, back in the spring of 1914, they were so happy together. There was Vera Brittain, an upper class girl with ideas of her own; and her bright brother Edward; and his group of friends among whom Roland Leighton, wonderful, handsome, sensitive Roland Vera had fallen for... Always having great times together talking, laughing, exchanging ideas, walking, eating, swimming together; all of them envisioning the glittering future they deserved: Vera, despite her father's opposition, would study at Oxford, marry Roland and be a famous writer; Roland, as for him, would be acclaimed as a great poet while Edward and his friends would each become a prominent figure in his respective field... But then came that fateful day on 4 August 1914 when Britain declared war on Germany. All those beautiful dreams were to be shattered one after the other. All except one: Vera wound up becoming a writer... A writer but a pacifist as well.Written by
To get the extras to act urgently and emotionally in the train station where Vera and Roland stay their goodbyes, director James Kent blasted loud house music from large speakers. The initial juxtaposition was so jarring that Kit Harington nearly peed himself with laughter. See more »
When the Sister, a Scottish woman in her sixties, instructs Vera and another nurse to prepare two hundred beds by lunchtime, she says to them, "Move it, move it!" This would be anachronistic even in an American hospital at the time, let alone in Britain. It's only one step short of "Haul ass!" See more »
At college, more than anywhere else, one was likely to make the friendships that supported one through life.
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During the opening credits, World War I guns can be heard in the background. See more »
Testament of Youth (2014) was directed by James Kent. It's a dramatic film based on the autobiography of the noted English pacifist, Vera Brittain.
Alicia Vikander plays Vera Brittain, who in pre-WW I England, is barely allowed by her family to think for herself. She wants to go to Oxford and become a writer. Neither of these options is welcomed by her family. She persists, and does, indeed, get accepted at Oxford. However, all this debate and discussion about her future becomes basically irrelevant when World War I breaks out. Her brother, her fiancé, and their good friend all join the army. Vera becomes a nurse, first in England and then at the front.
There aren't too many battle scenes. Instead--and in a way, worse--we get scenes of the carnage that follows the battles. When Vera is at the front, the scenes at the aid stations are graphic and horrible to watch.
Another reviewer pointed out the similarity of one of the scenes to a scene in "Gone with the Wind." I noticed this too. In both movies, the camera pulls back to show us a huge field of wounded shoulders on stretchers, with just a few nurses moving among them trying to lessen their suffering.
It's easy to understand why Vera Brittain was changed forever by her experiences as a nurse. So, in a technical sense, this is a coming-of-age movie. However, it's much more than that. Vera's coming of age meant that she understood the basic futility of the killing and maiming. Working with the wounded and the dying at the battlefront wasn't something that she was able to forget and put behind her. The war changed her into the peace activist that she became and remained.
Alicia Vikander is a superb actor. This isn't her first film, but I was unaware of her work until I saw Testament of Youth. An earlier reviewer found her appearance too waif-like. In my opinion, she wasn't waif-like, but she had an astonishingly delicate Pre-Raphaelite beauty. My thought is that this works in the context of the movie. She may have looked delicate and incapable of any difficult, terrible work, but, when the time came, she rose to the challenge.
We saw this film at the excellent Little Theatre in Rochester, NY. It will work better on the large screen, because of the gorgeous scenery we see in England. (Obviously, there wasn't much beauty left in the scenery of war-torn France or Belgium.) Still, this is a film worth seeking out. If it's no longer playing in theaters, see it on the small screen. It's an challenging, important movie. Don't miss it.
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