The confluence of history, social mores and a young woman’s strong belief in her own individuality - convictions suffused with a humanist sensibility - are at the center of this sweeping saga based on Vera Brittain’s World War I memoir titled TESTAMENT OF YOUTH directed by James Kent. Born into an upper class English family, Vera Brittain (an independent, sharp-eyed, exotic looking young woman played by Alicia Vikander of Ex-Machina fame) never moves at a leisurely pace, but always with a speed and determination befitting her “youthful” fierceness of purpose.
We first glimpse Vera in 1914 teasing her brother and his two friends, as she effortlessly glides through a body of water - the repressed sexuality of the era heightening the interactions with the young Oxford men. We are quickly made cognizant of Vera’s value system as she laboriously studies for the Oxford entrance exam against her father’s wishes - having just bought her a piano to entice a potential suitor with her “womanly” skills. Despite protestations against being pulled into the quicksand of romance, Vera falls in love and becomes engaged to a fellow poet and student, Roland Leighton (Kit Harington - underwhelming in the part.) Life is expansive - possibilities flourish - the English countryside echoes the verdant blossoming of the future.
International conflicts exploding beyond one’s personal microcosm, upend our beings in an instant, leaving unexpected consequences; dreams are shattered and cast behind, as political events forge ahead. The clarion call to the First World War; patriotic young men enlisting in droves dreaming of manhood and glory fighting in the battlefields are illusions waiting to be crushed with the thunder of artillery and bombardment, resulting in a cataclysmic loss of lives and the sweet innocence of a generation.
The Brittain family is critically impacted by these world-wide hostilities; Her beloved brother and fiancé go off to combat, and eventually so does Vera who in good conscience cannot continue to study poetry at Oxford, leaving school to support the war effort by nursing wounded soldiers. The horrific reality of troops sluggishly wading in the mud, their blood filling the trenches; the dead listed page upon page in the daily newspapers - hits our psyches with a powerful awareness of the abomination that is war.
Ultimately Vera Brittain, becomes the face of pacifism based on her experience ministering to the recruit’s maimed and damaged - those injured and dying - both friend and foe. Her resolve is as passionate as ever, but this time she is battling an unending cycle of violence, hate, and vengeance; like a tidal wave, crashing over those impacted by events, altering them forever creating pockets of bleakness in their souls.