There are a lot of good things I could tell you about Testament of Youth, James Kent’s adaptation of a famous pacifist memoir written by World War I nurse Vera Brittain. For example:
- The acting is all top-notch.
- Seeing characters’ optimistic attitudes to “the war to end all wars” early in the film—oh, it’ll be over in a few months, it’s an opportunity to win glory—is genuinely chilling considering what modern audiences know about how awful and distinctly non-glorious WWI ended up being.
- It shows World War I from a women’s perspective. Vera (Alicia Vikander) fought her less liberal father—who believed, as did many of the time, that it was a young woman’s “job” to land a husband—to be able to go to Oxford. Then, when she got there and war broke out, sweeping her brother, fiancée, and close childhood friend in its wake, she decided to leave school to become a nurse, a job that eventually took her to the front. It’s a perspective that we don’t tend to see all that often, with female characters in war films tending to hang around the edges of the narratives, twisting their handkerchiefs and crying.
- THE COSTUME DESIGN, OH MY GOD. A) from a superficial standpoint, everything is gorgeous and I want to wear all of it, but also B) costume designer Consolata Boyle did an excellent job of showing through the medium of fashion how British culture changed during the war years. Early in the film, under Vera’s early 20th century garb she wears corsets and very old-fashioned underthings. By the end, she’s in less restricting sweaters and dresses. It’s the last gasp of the Victorian era giving way to modernity, and it makes me want to know all sorts of things about the history of fashion.
I could tell you those things. (And I just did. How ‘bout that!) But I feel like the best way to get some of you to see this film—which you should if you’ve any inclination to historical dramas—is to give you a run-down of the cast. We have:
- Alicia Vikander from Ex Machina
- Kit Harington from Game of Thrones
- Taron Edgerton from Kingsman: The Secret Service
- Dominic West from The Wire, The Hour
- Colin Morgan from Merlin
- AGENT CARTER (I did not know Hayley Atwell was in this. She popped up and I went full hearteyes.)
- Emily Watson from… no, she’s Emily Watson, for Chrissakes, that’s all I need to say.
- Joanna Scanlon from The Thick Of It
- Miranda Richardson
- Anna Chancellor
- And there’s Kent himself, who–though this is his first movie–directed three episodes of The White Queen, which I personally really enjoyed.
Seriously. Everyone is in this movie. Though, admittedly, some don’t get a ton of screentime. Even Emily Grace Bevan from In the Flesh pops up, if for like a second and a half. So, while Testament of Youth does have some slight problems—It feels a little claustrophobic and TV movie-ish at times, which is understandable considering Kent is telling an expansive story with what can’t have been a large budget. And a scene near the end where Vera talks about war reparations rings a bit preachy and emotionally false.—it’s worth it just for the chance to see all those people in the same film.
And the clothes. HNNG. Dress me like this every day of my life. (Women’s clothes and men’s. I’m not picky.)