The generations that lived through the ‘Great War’ are, by-and-large, no more, and the stories told about the war begin to become just that, blurring the line between fact and fiction as the war moves from lived experience to history.
Testament of Youth is adapted from a testament itself: Vera Brittain’s memoirs of World War I. There’s nothing surprising in Brittain’s story. We have a young woman whose life is transformed by the war, moving from Oxford’s halls to medical tents while watching the men in her life marched off to face death and despair. Director James Kent’s charge, then, is not to captivate his audience with a fresh story but to capture the authenticity of Brittain’s experience.
Alice Vikander delivers a moving performance as Vera, though the male supporting cast – Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Merlin (Colin Morgan) as love interests, Taron Eggerton as her (implicitly) gay brother – are less convincing. Kent’s direction is similarly torn between romantic, nostalgic photography – soft light streaming into the camera, pretty but generic – and tactile close-ups that give some insight into Brittain’s lived experience. Ultimately, the film is moving but holds too closely to ‘epic’ aesthetics to transcend the familiarity of its narrative.