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Film Review: Testament of Youth

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Swedish actor Alicia Vikander, star of A Royal Affair and Anna Karenina, is magnificent as Vera Brittain in this majestic and involving adaptation of her famous memoir of the same name. To be honest, I completely forget she was Swedish, so well has she fine-tuned her British accent.

The film is directed by James Kent, a filmmaker who has for years directed many wonderful, powerful, films – they just happen to have been for the small screen. In these days of cinematic television, many of his TV projects could have worked as big screen features (such as his and Mark Gattiss’s playfully menacing adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel Cat Among the Pigeons, or 2013’s BBC Two drama The Thirteenth Tale.) Testament of Youth has his trademark talents at the forefront: an ability to observe nature and surrounding imagery, the intelligent emotional pitching of scenes and his ability to get superb performances out of his actors.     

Testament of Youth chronicles Brittain’s traumatic and heartbreaking experiences during the First World War and what set her on the path to become one of the most outspoken pacifists of her generation. The men surrounding her had a big impact on her life, particularly the man she loved, Roland (played with watchable ease by Kit Harrington) and her brother Edward (Taron Egerton). There is also a young man named Victor trying to get her attention from the sidelines, brought to life thanks to a beautifully restrained performance by Colin Morgan, recently seen in BBC Two’s The Fall.

This doesn’t quite reach the heights of, say, Atonement and at times it threatens to become a bit like 12 Years a Slave; a catalogue of horrors rather than an interesting narrative. However, Kent manages to keep it under control, at least for the most part, and the result is a stirring and unforgettably emotional journey into the life of a remarkable woman.

Testament of Youth (2014), directed by James Kent, is released in UK cinemas on 16 January by Lionsgate, Certificate 12A. Watch the trailer below: 



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