30 Apr 2015

Testament of Youth - film review

From At The Movies, 7:40 pm on 30 April 2015

Testament of Youth - directed by James Kent, starring Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington.

Vera Brittain’s memoir Testament of Youth was published in 1933, and was - and is – acclaimed as a classic.  It tells the story of upper-middle-class Vera, who shocks her parents by wanting to go to University. This is in 1913.

Less shocked than the oldies are Vera’s closest friends – her brother Edward and his two best buddies, Victor and Roland. Roland in particular is extremely supportive of Vera’s intellectual ambitions. He’s an aspiring poet himself, and urges Vera to become a writer.

Now clearly when Vera Brittain wrote Testament of Youth, this was quite a big deal. Women a hundred years ago were actively discouraged from doing anything apart from look for a suitable, supportive husband.

In background, ominous war-noises are rumbling. Once it happens, all the young men in Vera’s life feel impelled to get into it. It’ll be an adventure, they think, and it will all be over by Christmas.

In other words the first hour and a bit of Testament of Youth is like the first ten minutes of just about every First World War film, book and TV series ever made. I assume this is because the original book was such a game-changer that it affected every subsequent telling of this story.  

I’m guessing that Testament of Youth - following Vera Brittain’s transition from participant in the War to passionate pacifist - must have earned its classic status through Brittain’s skill and talent as a writer.

And good writing is just about the hardest thing to translate into a movie.

Essentially Testament of Youth is a film depending on the reputation of the original book.  And like most literary adaptations, the plot alone isn’t enough to sustain it. Often the best advice in these cases is “flick the flick, get out the book”. As it is here.