Testament of Youth

by | Jul 8, 2015 | 0 comments

The Cast of Stellar Actors Performs in a Film that’s a Bit Long in the Middle

Period-film love stories have completely burned out. We’re sick of seeing another corset and teatime romance and proof of that was the sad box office reception of The Madding of the Crowd. After the multiple remakes of Pride and Prejudice in both film and TV and Keira Knightley used in every British corset film, we’ve wanted to move forward in time. Given this, when I stepped into the theatre to see Testament of Youth I was expecting a droning film of love triangles and inheritances, but I was wrong.

Testament of Youth is a biographical film that tells the story of the British woman Veera Brittain (Alicia Vikander) in the 1910s, who lives off fairly well with her mother and father and gets along very well with her brother Ed (Kingsman’s Taron Egerton). The family is pushing her to be the typical Pride and Prejudice woman who plays the piano and accepts the husband that her family picks for her. But Veera isn’t like that; she wants to go to study at Oxford University with her brother and his friends, she wants to be able to vote, and doesn’t necessarily want to commit to a marriage. She frequently argues with her father (played by an underused Dominic West), and only Ed manages to make her smile. Queue for the handsome Roland (Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington) to come and visit his friend Ed. As expected Roland and Veera spark up a romance, but just as they are warming up to each other World War I breaks out.

I think that what the film did really well was that it gave us a refreshing and more modern character in the shape of Veera (even though I know its biographical I feel like the handling of her character was what made the difference). The film felt much more progressive that anyone could anticipate. But, however, the best part of the film was actually the cheesy aspects. The first quarter of the film has Veera and Roland falling in love, and it is done so well that I could almost qualify it as flawless. Its pace is perfect, not too slow so that you’re falling asleep, but not too fast so that it’s not credible. Then the chemistry between Vikander and Harrington is amazing as well, so that you believe the character’s motives and blind decisions. Surprisingly however, as the film hits World War I, it’s when it starts losing steam. You would imagine that as war blasts, the film would reach a break-neck tragic pace that keeps you on the edge of your seat. But unfortunately the film feels like it is paused for the next 50% of the runtime. And I think the big fault here is that the film deals with WWI the same way that thousands of other films have dealt with war. It is almost identical with the way Downton Abbey dealt with the Great War, and the lessons are the same that have been reiterated in Gallipoli and The Water Diviner. So essentially this part of Testament of Youth is showing us things that other films have done before exactly the same and because of that, you are not getting any benefit from the film and thus you get bored.

Fortunately this middle chunk of the film is saved by Vikander who once again proves she is an amazing actress, and will surely reach stardom by the end of the year. We previously saw her shine out in Ex Machina, but she has been given great performances since The Royal Affair (also a corset film by the way, but not conservative either). She has another 7 films coming out this year, so there is no doubt that a star is in the making. In Testament of Youth she gives such a harrowing performance, of a determined girl that is suffering on the inside but she refuses to show it. She truly portrays the journey meant in the title of the film with blunt honesty and reserved emotion. Harrington meanwhile was a surprise as well. In Game of Thrones he really just has to put a smug face on and does some sword fighting, so I was expecting a disappointment from him, but he really pulled off his character in a very promising way. As for Taron Egerton, he is also a rising star, he fills the very supporting role of Ed with such passion and enthusiasm that he ends up being one of the best and most admirable characters in the whole film.

The final part of the film concludes with a spectacular anti-war speech given by Vikander, which for the first time gives a sentimental air to both the British and the German sides of the war. We are so used to the Germans being portrayed as ruthless villains, that it this turn was extremely surprising and refreshing; it looked like cinema was finally taking a step forward in not looking at things in a biased way. Essentially the final speech is the main message that the film wants us to take out, more than any testament of youth really.

So in the end the film is basically a sandwich made with incredible good bread but dry meat. And while the film does feel a little long in the middle, by the end you do feel glad you sat through it all, not only to see a surprisingly different period film, but the incredible performances from rising stars as well. Vikander and Egerton: you are destined for great things. 

  • OVERALL MOVIE RATING 69% 69%

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What is your favorite period romance? Let me know in the comments section.

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