Since its publication in 1933, Vera Brittain’s story of love and loss, despair and remembrance has remained one of the foremost works of war writing. A sensitive portrait of one woman’s struggle against the devastation and the futility of war, Brittain’s memoir, Testament of Youth, recounts her experiences throughout World War 1, steeped in love, tragedy and passion.
Introducing the little known Alicia Vikander as Vera, her graceful and beautiful presence on screen is matched only by the sweeping scenes of the English landscape. Following her life from 1914, an 18-year old Vera fights with her father to be allowed to sit the Oxford entrance exams, despite the fact it won’t earn her an actual degree. Undeterred and even more determined, she studies and passes, earning herself a place at Somerville College where she excitedly looks ahead to joining her brother, Edward (Taron Egerton) and his friend, and her soon to be fiancé, Roland (Kit Harington). That is until her boys decide to enlist in the war. As her boys fight for their country, she too feels the pressure to act and volunteers her services as am auxiliary nurse both in England and later on the front.
Interposing scenes from Vera’s life at home with those far away in the trenches and syncopated by emotional train platform and carriage meetings, Brittain’s vivid memoir comes to life, helped along by a haunting score by Max Richter.
Supported by BBC Films, BFI and Screen Yorkshire, Testament of Youth is not only a love story of wartime but of Britain itself, with an impressive home grown cast including Dominic West and Emily Watson as Vera’s parents, Miranda Richardson as the spiky Oxford tutor and Hayley Atwell as the fierce nurse on the front.
A perfect complement to this year’s First World War centenary commemorations, James Kent’s adaptation of Testament of Youth captures this story with affection for both the woman who shared her story and the country she vowed to protect.
Testament of Youth is screening on Thursday 17 October (Odeon West End) and Friday 17 October (Curzon Mayfair).
View the full film festival programme online: www.bfi.org.uk/lff
Watch the trailer: