World War I Seen Through the Eyes of Grieving Woman
By Skip Sheffield
“Testament of Youth” is one magnificent movie. That’s not an adjective I often use, but “Testament of Youth” is something special. A movie this grand, this epic, this sweeping and emotionally engaging does not come along often. The clincher is the story is real; based on the autobiography of Vera Brittain as adapted by Juliette Towhidi (“Calendar Girls”).
Vera Brittain is played by Alicia Vikander, the gorgeous Swedish actress who was so haunting as the robot girl in “Ex Machina.”
Vikander is 27, but with her slim, slight figure she is quite believable as the headstrong teenager she plays as the story begins in 1914 at the outset of World War I. Vera comes from a wealthy, upper-class British family. Her father (Dominic West) has bought her an expensive grand piano. When he asks her to play something on it she plays a few bars then abruptly stops and storms out. Vera doesn’t want to be “bullied” by performing for her family on command. She is more focused on getting into Oxford University. Dad is not keen on the idea, but Vera has a way of getting what she wants.
Director James Kent begins the story Nov. 11, 1918 during the tumultuous celebration of Armistice Day signaling the end of World War I. The character we come to know as Vera seems deeply troubled, but we do not know why. The scene then immediately flashes back to an idyllic summer day in the countryside four years previous, when Vera and the three boys closest to her are frolicking by a lake. The boys are her brothers Edward (Taron Egerton) and Victor (Colin Morgan) and family friend Roland Leighton (Kit Harrington). Despite vowing she would never be controlled by a man, Vera falls in love with Roland and they become engaged to be married.
Meanwhile World War I is raging in Europe, and all three boys volunteer for military service. Vera does her part by dropping out of Oxford and volunteering as a Red Cross nurse in France.
World War I was a horrific bloodbath, with an estimated 10 million killed, 20 million crippled or severely injured, 9 million children orphaned and 5 million women widowed. Despite the claim it was going to be “The War to End War,” the lesson was not learned. It still has not been learned.
Vera Brittain went on to become a leading British author, feminist and pacifist. This is her story, wonderfully conveyed.