Testament of Youth is based on memoir of Vera Brittain cited by many as the voice of a generation and perfectly encapsulating life before, during and after World War I.
I’m not normally a fan of period dramas or for that matter war films. Testament of Youth however is a welcome change and indeed an eye opener to the realities of WWI through the eyes of a young Brittain, played wonderfully by Alicia Vikander.
Throughout the film Vera challenges the stereotypes of her day, studying at Oxford and then as so many of her era signing up to join the war effort. However Vera’s perspective is refreshingly different for the viewer as she signs up as a nurse and tending to the wounded on both sides of the conflict. It was a pleasing change to not head to the front lines as is so often the case in these films although I can categorrically state that the film loses no impact for this.
The scenes of Vera tending to German solidiers is genuinely touching. This is no glorification of the British effort as is so often the case. The sequences in which Vera deals with injured German soldiers are heartbreaking. The conflict in her character is tangible on the realisation of what she must do. However after short contemplation the triumph of humanity is displayed, love for neighbour winning out over and above predisposed positions and prejudices.
The film does not hold back in depciting the grime of the war. You can feel every squelch of mud as Vera makes her way across base camps. Sequences showing those in the trenches covered in mud staring down the barrel of the camera and ultimately their destinies as the voice over tells their tale in letters to loved ones are hard to forget. Not to mention the many graphic injuries that the viewer is faced with.
All these elements hammer home that the war was no glamarous venture a fact whihc is sadly lacking in today’s Call of Duty gaming age.
This is not a cut and dry love story. That is merely a fraction of what is involved in this film. Scrape the surface and there is much more to be found.
Vera Brittain was not a typical woman of her time. Testament of Youth is not a typical period drama war film.
*Testament of Youth is now available on Netflix