In 1914, Vera Brittain had the world at her feet and defied convention by being given the rare opportunity to study at Oxford. When war breaks out across Europe, her world is turned upside down when young men close to her are called to sign up and fight on the front lines. Her need to help the war effort forces her to abandon her studies to become a nurse and when tragedies hit close to home, her former, happy life seems like nothing but a distant memory.
Testament of Youth (2014) – Director: James Kent
Running Length: 129 mins
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton
Genre: Drama, Romance, War
‘Testament of Youth’ is based upon the memoir of the same name by Vera Brittain, a young, independent woman whose intellect and tenacity secured her a place at Oxford, which was almost unheard of for women at the time. Being based on a true story helps to show the audience how innocent the enthusiastic young men were that were going to fight and die for their country and that they were desperate to prove their worth, convinced that the war would be over within a few months.
While it is important for Vera to be a strong woman and not a simpering girl, Alicia Vikander’s portrayal of her comes across as miserable and moody which makes it difficult for the audience to warm to her. Her emotions do come out but only in extreme circumstances and when everyone around her is much more natural, her general indifference is made even more apparent and as the story is told through her eyes, her seeming apathy drags the drama down somewhat.
‘Testament of Youth’ is an engaging drama about the horrors of war and what happens to the families that are left behind. As a protagonist, Vera isn’t as charismatic as she could be but that doesn’t take away from the otherwise excellent drama, heartbreaking realism and true human spirit that makes this a movie that will stand the test if time.
IS ‘TESTAMENT OF YOUTH’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
There are several emotional moments in the movie due to young men going to war. Several established characters join up to the war effort and loved ones put on a brave face but are deeply upset by the prospect of the men dying.
There is some injury detail, some of which is quite graphic. One character brightly says ‘I had to saw this chappy’s arm off ‘, the camera shows the man who is being talked about and his arm has a bandage over his stump but some blood has seeped through. During one scene, there are numerous quick but graphic shots of injured soldiers, for example one holds up a bloody stump and screams in pain, a doctor gives a man stitches for a large wound on his back (this is seen from a distance) and another has a severe neck wound.
A character is described to have had a ‘painless and noble death’ but when a loved one investigates, it is revealed that the character in question suffered greatly for a number of hours.
One character dies unexpectedly; when explaining what happened, a character says that they ‘heard a loud clicking noise in his head, it was very sudden and very quick’ but no other detail is given, so the cause of death is left ambiguous. As this very likeable character was previously seen to be alive and well, this sudden, inexplicable death could be confusing and possibly upsetting for some kids.
At a medical facility for injured soldiers, the dead are put in an area away from the living. There are dozens of bodies, some stacked on top of each other. Some have their eyes open and there is a small amount of injury detail the shots aren’t graphic or too bloody.
There are a couple of instances where a telegram is delivered and the receiver is given bad news about a loved one. One of these people can be heard sobbing loudly due to the death of a son.
CAN I SEE A CLIP?
Overall, ‘Testament of Youth’ is a realistic story of the struggles of the British people during World War I, the main focus is not on the front lines so there is little exciting action but the drama is a real insight into the culture and emotion of a country that suddenly found itself in a violent and bloody war that no-one was ready for. This is not a film for anyone who wants instant excitement but as a drama, it captures the spirit of ‘The Great War’ perfectly despite the protagonist’s less than impressive demeanour. We feel that this movie is likely to be too slow for younger kids and therefore recommend it for children aged 10 and over.
- Violence: 2/5 (very little actual violence is shown on screen, there is some dialogue explaining how people have died and some injuries are shown on screen, these are often quite graphic)
- Emotional Distress: 3/5 (loved ones go to war and some are killed in action. This leads to emotional scenes with those close to them who are back at home)
- Fear Factor: 1/5
- Sexual Content: 1/5 (a romance blossoms between a young couple, the woman is seen to think about the man and sees close-up shots of his partially bare chest, part of his face and his arm. This isn’t sexual in nature)
- Bad Language: 1/5 (some mild blasphemy)
- Dialogue: 3/5 (a character tells someone that when in the trenches they saw a soldier put their head above the parapet and he ‘got his brains blown out’)
- Other notes: Deals with themes of having a naive attitude towards war, the deaths of loved ones, sacrificing one’s dreams for a more altruistic vocation, the futility, consequences and devastation of war, understanding that ‘the enemy’ isn’t always evil, being determined to succeed regardless of what stands in your way and supporting a loved one to follow their dreams.
Words by Laura Record