By Caitlin Ball
Testament of Youth
In the wake of numerous blockbuster biopics that have emerged in recent years (such as Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman), Testament of Youth’s status as a comparably modest BBC film is only underlined. I would argue, however, that it recounts a life story that is just as significant, if also just as tragic.
Testament of Youth follows the emotionally tumultuous life of Vera Brittain (played brilliantly by Alicia Vikander), who at the age of twenty, has her dreams of studying at Oxford turned upside down by the breakout of the First World War. Feeling guilty about remaining in her quaint Oxford bubble while her male counterparts fight on the frontlines, she volunteers as a nurse, only to suffer the losses of her friend, brother, and fiancé before the war is over (played by Colin Morgan, Taron Egerton, and Game of Thrones’ very own Kit Harington respectively).
Picturesque opening scenes, where Vera and her friends swim in lakes, sit at pianos in elegant Georgian living rooms and marvel at fairy-tale-like Oxford architecture are harshly juxtaposed with scenes of a frantic Vera attempting to physically and psychologically navigate rickety wooden medical huts packed with diseased men that expose, on a strikingly raw level, the bloody horrors of war.
What makes this biopic my favourite is its spectacular honesty and realism, masterfully – and respectfully – turning Vera’s deeply nuanced memoir (of the same title) into a war film that, for once, focuses wholeheartedly on the experiences and post-traumatic stresses that were endured by women.
And I feel I should warn you – although you may have gathered by now – that it isn’t always a light-hearted watch. It certainly is an important one, however. Hints of Vera’s legacy as one of the most prominent female pacificists of the twentieth century emerge towards the film’s close, leaving the audience to consider where the responsibility for the tragedy of war truly lies as the credits begin to roll.
Illustration: Samantha Fulton