Swedish actress Alicia Vikander puts in a triumphant, emotional performance as Vera Brittain, famous pacifist and writer of a memoir of her wartime experience from which the film takes its name. Despite her father’s disapproving (Dominic West), Brittain studies at Oxford University, before deciding to become a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, taking her right to the front line and face to face with First World War horrors whilst slowly, painfully, losing so many of those who were dearest to her.
Testament of Youth is thoughtfully and gorgeously shot, striking memorable images such as a close up of Brittain treating a small number of hopelessly injured patients in a muddy field lying on stretchers, before the camera pans back to unveil the full scale and horror of the situation. Well crafted shots like this really show the futility of the front lines, but lets you understand the devotion of these nurses. Vikander plays Brittain with the right balance of fortitude and compassion as she faces the falsities of glorious, battlefield death. It’s a performance filled with delicate sincerity and it’s unbelievable that she’s not actually British. Gorgeous costumes by Consolata Boyle and Rob Hardy’s cinematography play more than just supporting roles in presenting a thoughtful and emotionally resonant drama, poignantly timed 100 years after the start of the First World War and a great justice to Vera Brittain’s life.
Review by David Rank
Testament of Youth is out on 16th January in the UK. Running time 129 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).