I didn’t forget today! Just haven’t been home!
Tonight’s film is NOT one of the list that my friend Ben wanted me to review, but rather the film I watched earlier this week that has REALLY stuck with me since then! So, let’s go!
Testament of Youth (2014) Dir. James Kent Writ. Juliette Towhidi Stars: Alicia Vikander, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan, Kit Harington Rated PG-13 129 mins. Drama, War, Biography IMDB 7.3
To begin with, I knew the story of Vera Brittain’s memoir, even without reading the book, so I knew going in that it was going to be sad. I can’t really avoid spoilers in this review, but the book was published in 1933, so it’s not like you haven’t had time to hear the story before.
So, with spoilers to a minimum, Testament of Youth tells the story of a real woman, Vera Brittain, and how World War 1 changed her life forever. In 1914, when the war broke out, Vera had just been accepted to Oxford after teaching herself the entrance exame, as were her little brother and their friends, and she was looking forward to a life as a writer… and she did manage to become a writer, eventually. But World War 1 changed her life forever when she lost almost everything. Her fiance, best friend, little brother, and her brother’s ‘friend’ (more on that later) all died while she was a front lines nurse during the war after dropping out of Oxford.
You have to have noticed by now that, though I didn’t know of her before I watched A Royal Affair, I have come to love Alicia Vikander more than most actors out there. She’s INCREDIBLE. And yet, I have actually had this movie saved to watch for a long time, long before I knew she played the main character. I saved this movie ages ago because Colin Morgan is in it and I love Colin Morgan. Then, recently, I realized the only film/tv show off of Taron Egerton’s IMDB page I hadn’t seen was Testament of Youth and I remembered Colin Morgan is in it, so I thought “Sweet, two actors I love!” and then lo and behold, Alicia Vikander is the main character! Obviously, I put it on immediately.
Going into this film, as I’ve mentioned before, I knew the story. I knew that Vera Brittain lost everything other than her parents in World War 1 and it drove her to become a pacifist until she died. So I thought I was prepared, right? It’ll be sad, but I know the story so it’s just going to be a nice retelling.
…. I was so unprepared for how beautifully James Kent did this film. The script courtesy of Juliette Towhidi is INSANELY amazing, and the film is just beautiful. It’s shot so well. There are shots that, without any actor in the shot, absolutely gut you. It’s just so beautiful of a film.
And the ACTING! Alicia Vikander is one of those actors that does everything subtly. Where one actor would be directed/would make the choice to do something very over the top dramatic, Vikander does the most subtle expressions. It’s like how British Actors can often “say it with a look” but done expertly. There is only one real scene in the entire movie where Vera loses her composure and, rather than subtle emotions, starts screaming and crying, and because of that, that one scene is so impactful it is impossible to describe how it feels without you just watching it to see for yourself. She does such an amazing job in this film that even without the amazing acting done by the others, it’s a masterpiece.
But the acting by everyone else is amazing, too. I don’t actually know Kit Harington in anything else, which is amusing since apparently everybody else does, but he does such a lovely job showing shell shock in the scene on the beach. It’s incredible. And then I have known for YEARS that Colin Morgan is one of the most talented actors under 30 (though I think he is 30 now? Not sure) out there, but his performance, though less involved, was absolutely incredible. His longing from afar was beautifully subtle and lovely. And Taron Egerton is another that I didn’t know about until last year, and he has only been around since 2013, so most people haven’t, but he’s absolutely incredible! Oh my, his love for his big sister is so beautifully done, and to be an actor who was like 25 when this was filmed, he embodies the 18 year old, “invincible man!” cockiness that a lot of teenagers have when they hit 18 so amazingly. It’s so incredible. Also, the part where you come to realize he is gay is so subtly done, it’s so innocuous, that the only thing that makes you go, ‘oh damn’ is his face and his voice when he’s talking about his ‘friend’. I didn’t even know that Edward Brittain was gay until that, and when I googled to see, sure enough! Turns out he was and Vera left it out of her memoir so people wouldn’t lose respect for his memory. I even saw some people saying the film ‘left that out’ but, honestly, if you didn’t catch that, you’re blind as a bat! The scene with her showing him where she found the letter from his friend who died tucked into his shirt and his reaction was like, ‘oh, wow, Edward Brittain was gay? Damn.’
All in all, this was an unexpected masterpiece. I thought it was going to be a decent historical film, but instead, it ended up being a film that I cannot stop thinking about. I was driving to school one day this week and just suddenly remembered the end scene where she got on the stage and spoke and just started sobbing and mumbling, ‘Fuck war’ under my breath. It’s that sort of film. I promise you, you will not forget this one anytime soon.
My Rating: 9/10