My primary focus (spotlighted in these columns), are films which sidestep typical Hollywood fare and center on independent productions. In industry jargon, they’re known as “indies.” These cinematic gems, without benefit of tinsel town’s mass marketing muscle, are naturally very budget conscious. Quality writing, strong narratives, character development, and in the main, lesser known, but talented actors, are the prime ingredients. Maximum exposure is dependant on positive critical assessment from main stem scribes, social media blogging, and word of mouth hardcore film fans, who like me, are stimulated and entertained by artistic content rather than formulaic fist-pounding, blow-em-up action.
“Testament of Youth” is such a film, ramping up emotion rather than commotion. It’s a powerful story of love, war and remembrance, based on the bestselling First World War memoir by Vera Brittain, which has become the classic testimony of that war from a woman’s point of view. A searing journey from youthful hopes and dreams to the edge of despair and back again, it’s a coming of age story, heralded as the voice of a generation about young love, the futility of war and how to make sense of the darkest times. Vera’s story is a key witness account of WW1, which continues to resonate because it is above all a personal story of how one person faces war and tragedy, and rises above them.
The story begins in the Edwardian spring of 1914, with Vera Brittain
a youthful feminist, free-minded and irrepressible determined to sit exams for Oxford, against her conservative parents’ wishes. She is encouraged and inspired by her brother and his friends, particularly the brilliant
Roland Leighton, who shares her dream of being a writer. But her hopes for Oxford with Roland turn to dust as war is declared, and all the young men enlist; she herself gives up her dream of writing, and becomes a
nurse. What follows is a story of heightened, urgent love between Vera
and Roland interrupted by the war, as Vera moves closer and closer to the front, eventually nursing Germans soldiers, who help her to recognize the futility of war. Through Vera we see youthful love buffeted by fatal losses and the overpowering tide of history, as one by one those closest to her are lost to the carnage. Yet Vera’s story is also one of survival, as she returns from the
war determined to find a new purpose, and to keep faith with those she has lost, spurring her towards a powerful act of remembrance.
Through Vera’s wartime experiences, we understand how she went on to write one of the defining memoirs of her age, which gave voice to a lost generation. Many elements in the film (such as some of the key letters from the front and Roland’s poems) are authentic, and it’s the fact that “Testament of Youth” is a genuine witness testimony which gives the story its power.
Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (“A Royal Affair,” “Anna Karenina”), currently on screen as a robot with artificial intelligence in the sci-fi drama “Ex-Machina,” is attracting critical praise for her thrilling astute portrait of Vera, a young Oxford graduate whose ideals are beaten into shape (bitterly forged) by the heartbreak and grueling trauma of the First World War.
What awaits Vera in the next four years is personal loss, and upheaval of the soul. The story flickers with the apprehension of sadness arising from the uncertainties of war, while feeding viewers with post-hostility glimpses of hope and optimism.
With unapologetic emotions, the story takes a magnetic hold of the soul sweeping you up in life’s complexities. One feels a kinship to Vera’s exceptional experience.
“Testament of Youth,” is currently screening first run in select markets. Watch for future release on DVD, and through on demand, and net streaming.