Testament of Youth (film)
|Testament of Youth|
UK theatrical release poster
|Directed by||James Kent|
|Written by||Juliette Towhidi|
Testament of Youth|
by Vera Brittain
|Music by||Max Richter|
|Edited by||Lucia Zucchetti|
|Box office||$5.3 million|
Testament of Youth is a 2014 British drama film based on the First World War memoir of the same name written by Vera Brittain. The film stars Alicia Vikander as Vera Brittain, an independent young woman who abandoned her Oxford studies to become a war nurse. The film was directed by James Kent and written by Juliette Towhidi.
It's 1918, and Vera Brittain struggles through a cheering crowd, celebrating the end of the Great War. She's the only one not cheering and takes refuge in a church, where several women are praying. There, a painting of a struggle at sea reminds her of earlier times...
Now 1914, Vera fights to become a student at Somerville College, Oxford. While her father is against it, her brother Edward supports her. Along with his close schoolfriends Roland Leighton and friend Victor, the "three musketeers" and Vera have a good summer, swimming in a lake together and having long walks in the countryside. Roland, who is himself an aspiring poet, supports Vera in writing her own poems and pursuing her dream of becoming a writer someday. Roland and Vera start a shy romance. With the support of her brother Vera convinces her father to let her visit Oxford. The First World War breaks out and all three musketeers enlist. Vera helps convince her father to let Edward join the army.
When she arrives in Oxford she sees, for the first time, two amputees being assisted. In a newspaper, Vera sees that four of the pages of the paper consist of only the names of the fallen (i.e. the dead). Vera volunteers to join the Voluntary Aid Detachment as a nurse tending the wounded in a hospital. Some of the other nurses know that she is from Oxford and therefore try to "break" Vera. For the first time Vera is confronted with the wounded from the front, when she has to wash a stinking soldier, brought covered in mud and blood from the battlefield in Flanders to the hospital in London.
Vera's brother Edward visits, introducing his friend, fellow soldier Geoffrey Thurlow, and brings the news that Roland has just arrived back home on leave. They all visit the Leighton's home and Roland privately admits to Vera his traumatic experiences at the front. He proposes to Vera and they decide to get married on his next home leave. Roland soon returns to France, this time accompanied by Vera's brother Edward. Vera finds her father reluctantly crying after his son's train departs. In the hospital a stream of wounded soldiers arrive. Roland writes that he has been granted leave at Christmas, and has been sent far behind the lines and is safe. Just before Christmas, he is killed. Vera, in her wedding dress, hears from Roland's sobbing mother in a telephone call just half an hour before being due to leave for the church.
Vera eventually finds out that Roland did not die "bravely and painlessly", as the letter she receives from the British Army states. She visits George Catlin, who was in the next hospital bed to Roland in Louvencourt. Catlin tries to spare her feelings, but then confirms Roland suffered from his abdomen gunshot wound for half a day in such pain, due to a shortage of morphine, that there was no last message. Victor, now blind from his injuries, arrives at the hospital. Vera proposes to him, because he is "going to need someone" and "I... Well, Roland would like it", but he gently turns her down, although he has been in love with Vera for a long time. The next night he unexpectedly dies from his head injury.
Vera decides to go work in France herself. Her father is very proud of her. It's August 1917 and in France the situation of the wounded is very bad. Due to a lack of surgeons often the nurses have to perform amputations. Vera works in a hospital behind the lines, where she is first tasked with treating wounded Germans. Although she and her superior at first seem to not care much about the wounded enemy, they later both comfort a dying German soldier. After a big offensive the hospital is so crowded that the wounded have to lie in the mud outside. A stretcher bearer says one soldier claimed to know her, name of Edward. She ask where that soldier lies and is told "Round the back", where the dead lie. Amongst the corpses Vera discovers her brother, and realises he's still alive. She nurses him, his infected wound gets treatment, and he is saved. Vera shows him the letter from Geoffrey that she found in his pocket; she hadn't read it. Edward lets her, wanting her to hear Geoffrey's "voice". The letter recounts a sunset over the battlefield and ends "And I thought of you, dear friend, and I knew I'd see you again, either in this world or the hereafter".
Once Edward is recovered, he is sent to Italy, which seems to be good news because the fighting there is lighter. Edward wants Vera to proceed with her academic career after the war, by visiting Oxford. Vera's mother has a nervous breakdown and Vera goes home. There she takes over the household, cleaning the house and hiring a maid. A telegram boy arrives and from Vera's father's sobs at the front door she knows Edward is dead.
The day of the truce comes. Like in the first minutes of the movie, Vera is shown as she marches stoically through a cheering crowd, to end up in a church where some women are praying. Honouring her brother's wish, Vera finally goes to Oxford, where she has nightmares about Roland's and Edward's deaths. Winifred Holtby, another student at the college, helps her cope with her trauma and to get back into the everyday world.
Vera visits a public political meeting on how to punish the Germans because George Catlin is a speaker. Most of the audience is for a "revenge treaty". Caitlin, who calls for a "forgiving peace", is booed. Vera gets on the stage and gives a speech about how she held the hand of a dying German soldier and that he was not different from her brother or her fiancé. Therefore she calls for a "No more" to war and revenge.
The last scenes show Vera swimming in the lake, where she swam with the "three musketeers" in 1914. She promises not to forget the dead and the screen turns to black before this memorial:
|In Memory of|
|Roland Leighton||1895 – 1915|
|Victor Richardson||1895 – 1917|
|Geoffrey Thurlow||1895 – 1917|
|Edward Brittain||1895 – 1918|
- Alicia Vikander as Vera Brittain
- Kit Harington as Roland Leighton
- Colin Morgan as Victor Richardson
- Taron Egerton as Edward Brittain
- Dominic West as Mr Brittain
- Emily Watson as Mrs Brittain
- Joanna Scanlan as Aunt Belle
- Hayley Atwell as Hope
- Jonathan Bailey as Geoffrey Thurlow
- Alexandra Roach as Winifred Holtby
- Anna Chancellor as Mrs Leighton
- Miranda Richardson as Miss Lorimer
- Charlotte Hope as Betty
In February 2009, it was announced that BBC Films was developing a feature film adaptation of memoir Testament of Youth written by Vera Brittain, about women's experiences during World War I. The BBC had previously adapted the book as a five-part television serial which was transmitted on BBC2 in 1979 with Cheryl Campbell as Vera Brittain.
Film development had the support of Shirley Williams, Brittain's daughter, and of Mark Bostridge, Brittain's biographer, editor, and one of her literary executors, who was reportedly acting as consultant on the film. Heyday Films' producers David Heyman and Rosie Alison would be producing the film with the BBC, while Juliette Towhidi was adapting the film. James Kent would direct the film. On 4 February 2014 Protagonist Pictures came on board to handle international sales and launched the film at the Berlin International Film Festival in that month.
In December 2013, it was announced that Alicia Vikander would be playing the lead part of Brittain in the film, now to be released in late 2014 as part of the First World War commemorations. Saoirse Ronan was initially attached to play Brittain. On 4 February 2014, Kit Harington joined the cast to play the role of Brittain's fiancé Roland Leighton. On 13 February 2014, Colin Morgan, Alexandra Roach and Taron Egerton were announced to have joined the film's cast. An ensemble cast was confirmed as filming began, including Dominic West, Emily Watson, Joanna Scanlan, Hayley Atwell, Jonathan Bailey and Anna Chancellor.
The railway station scenes, the train interiors, and the scene in the railway cafe, were shot at Keighley railway station, using trains provided by the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. The landscape shots of period trains were filmed at the heritage track of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Ravenscar and Robin Hood's Bay in the North York Moors were locations for the coastal shots. The Welbeck Abbey estate in Nottinghamshire provided several locations, including the scenes at Uppingham School, Melrose House and the Étaples field hospital. The lake scenes were filmed in Darley Dale in Derbyshire. Hospital corridor scenes were filmed in Sheffield Town Hall.
To portray the war-blinded Victor Richardson, Morgan interviewed a series of ex-service men and women; he contacted Blind Veterans UK and spent a day at the charity's Brighton Centre, where he received the same training as blind veterans, while blindfolded.
A book by Mark Bostridge, titled Vera Brittain and the First World War: The Story of Testament of Youth, was published by Bloomsbury Publishing on 4 December 2014. The book includes a chapter on the making of the film.
The film was released in wide distribution in the UK on 16 January 2015. Its world premiere was in The Centrepiece Gala, supported by the Mayor of London, at the British Film Institute London Film Festival on 14, 16 and 17 October 2014. On 16 January 2015, Sony Pictures Classics acquired the distribution rights to the film for North America, Latin America and Asia from Protagonist Pictures. The film was released in the USA on 5 June 2015 and in France on 24 June 2015.
Testament of Youth was well received upon its release. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 82% of 109 film critics have given the film a positive review, with an average rating of 7 out of 10. The website's consensus reads, "Testament of Youth is well-acted and beautifully filmed, adding up to an enriching if not adventurous experience for fans of British period dramas." Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 77 based on 33 reviews.
Awards and nominations
|2014||British Independent Film Awards||Best Actress||Alicia Vikander||Nominated|||
|London Film Festival||Best British Newcomer||Taron Egerton||Nominated|||
|2015||London Critics Circle Film Awards||Breakthrough British Filmmaker||James Kent||Nominated|||
|2016||Alliance of Women Film Journalists||Best Breakthrough Performance||Alicia Vikander||Won|||
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