Vera Brittain’s momentous and powerful memoir ‘Testament of Youth’ is a tale that has been adapted before in to a variety of mediums in the past from TV series to radio and was earmarked for the big screen about six years ago with an almost completely different cast. While things have changed as the film took time to come together, it’s easy to see why Brittain’s story is one that feels like it needs to be told in the cinema and the production team managed at long last to assemble a talented cast and a director in whom they saw talent despite his lack of experience in the cinematic medium. What transpires is a film that is often powerful and allows plenty of opportunity for leads Alicia Vikander and Kit Harington to shine, while missing an opportunity to be more meaningful, instead preferring handsomely presented sections where we basically devolve in to the bog standard period piece complete with much frolicking and a few too many clichés to remain truly resonant.
Harington and Vikander make up the glue of the film, with the latter’s performance being one of control and barely contained emotion, which Vikander allows to explode in the film’s more powerful moments. She’s always been a great talent as is proved by her performance in ‘A Royal Affair’ a few years ago, and this film goes some way to prove that she definitely has got the ability to carry a film on her shoulders. Harington, meanwhile, revels in a role that is sufficiently different from his work in both the TV series ‘Game of Thrones’ and last year’s disaster epic ‘Pompeii’ and shows that he’s a versatile and interesting actor who has a bright future ahead of him. The film’s stellar cast which features the likes of Emily Watson and Dominic West are all predictably strong too ensuring that the performances truly do come to life.
Despite its strengths on the acting front and its powerful story, ‘Testament of Youth’ does fall a little flat in that it doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from that familiar trope of the quaint British period piece, instead preferring to spend large dollops of time engaging in the sort of fanciful frolicking that one would expect from ‘Downton Abbey’ and not something with a story that deserves a telling that allows those powerful moments to take centre stage, rather than fall victim to recycled tropes that we’ve seen far too many times before. Respectful is the best word for this adaptation, with glimpses of something remarkable, but not enough conviction or ambition to move past its more ordinary moments.
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