Testament of Youth

Directed By: James Kent

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Colin Morgan, Emily Watson, Hayley Atwell, Dominic West, and Miranda Richardson

I recently had the distinct displeasure of watching Kit Harington die twice in the same weekend on the big and small screens.  As you all may be aware, there was a mutiny against Jon Snow (Harington) on Game of Thrones for his love of the Wildlings, for the Watch.  With the perception of Snow as breaking bread with their enemy, the insanely stupid mutineers dealt viewers like me our heaviest blow since the Red Wedding.  Why must it always be the Starks who die???  Alas, I won't have an answer until next year at the earliest.  The other on-screen death for Harington is that of his character Roland Leighton, a casualty of World War I and the love of writer Vera Brittain's life.  His brief time on earth is chronicled in her novel Testament of Youth and was brought to life on the big screen under the same name this month.  Kit, you need to find roles where you live.

Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander) is not exactly living the life she desires.  Unlike her brother Edward (Taron Edgerton), she will not get the opportunity to forge her own destiny.  Unfortunately for Vera, her parents Mr. and Mrs. Brittain (Dominic West and Emily Watson) have already done just that.  If Vera were to have her way, she would go off to Oxford with Edward and their friend Victor (Colin Morgan) and study writing.  According to her parents, however, she will marry a nice boy and start popping out children.  When Roland Leighton (Kit Harington) enters Vera's world, both loves seem to be a possibility.  Romance ensues, and her parents relent on her not going to Oxford.  There's just one tiny problem.  World War I is breaking out all over Europe, and Roland, Edward, and Victor all enlist in the armed forces.  All alone at Oxford, Vera's dream life becomes a war-torn nightmare.

Testament of Youth is a hard film to watch.  It's not because it's a depressing film but because it offers one of the most basic lessons we all must learn at some point in our lives. History tragically repeats itself.  Though war today doesn't impact everyone as personally and universally as the First Great War did a century ago, it's hard to deny that this same type of devastation takes place daily in many, many countries ravaged by conflict around the globe.  As we watch Roland, Victor, Edward, and many other nameless casualties meet their maker on the battlefield throughout the film, we get a front row seat for the personal and emotional suffering World War I brings upon Vera.  Multiply, that suffering by ten million and add another Kit Harington death on-screen.  Now, you understand why this film is so hard to watch.

Testament of Youth is an exquisite motion picture that really makes you feel the pain and suffering of war.  It's a film full of romance and ambition from the start.  As the film progresses, each tragedy that comes Vera's way is beautifully rendered on the big screen.  Director James Kent delivers gorgeous golden cinematography on the gritty bullet-laced battlefield, terrific sound mixing to convey the thunderous chaotic nature of war, and a lovely score that's melodic yet befits the more moving moments on screen.  It's also worth noting that the make-up, costumes, and set design all perfectly suit the era.  All in all, Testament of Youth is an immersive cinematic experience that puts moviegoers in the shoes of both Vera and all the men who were in her life.

The film centers on an outstanding performance from Alicia Vikander as the famous author Vera Brittain.  With Ex Machina and Seventh Son already on her résumé this year and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on the way in the next several months, Vikander is really breaking out this year.  Her potent, gutsy performance is full of heart and far-reaching in depth.  Vikander communicates a great deal of her characters thoughts and emotions through body language.  Incredibly nuanced, her performance is more often defined by what's not being said.  Vikander offers the kind of lead performance that really will help to polish her rising star.

I'm not one who touts period pieces as I think we see perhaps a few too many of them at the indie box office.  Testament of Youth, however, is something special.  It's worth the viewing and really doesn't disappoint.  This outstanding World War I drama forcefully makes the case for peace.  Testament of Youth gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.