One of the most powerful, poignant, moving movies I’ve seen in ages has so far won no awards. “Testament of Youth” is a dramatic version of a true story based on the World War 1 experiences of Vera Brittain.
Born into privilege and educated at Oxford University, with a brother, fiancé and close friend fighting on the western front, Vera left the safety of academia to work as a nurse in a battlefield hospital under appalling conditions.
As reported in an article in The Guardian, she wrote to her brother in a letter: “If the war spares me, it will be my one aim to immortalize in a book the story of us four.”
Her resulting book, “Testament of Youth,” finally published in 1933, became one of the most famous memoirs of the 20th century. And it became viewed as a classic in feminist literature for its depiction of a woman’s pioneering struggle to forge an independent career.
Beautifully shot with exquisite footage of England’s majestic natural world, the film balances bucolic scenes with the devastation of war (without actual fighting scenes). I was moved to tears a number of times at the emotionally, heartbreaking events depicted by an outstanding team of actors, especially Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, in an Oscar worthy performance as the film’s primary star. She’s magnificent.
The Wall Street Journal noted: “Alicia Vikander has fully and memorably arrived, a luminous presence with a gift for tenderness, an instinct for understatement and formidable reserves of passion—she not only rises to the challenge of Vera’s climactic speech, but elevates the pacifist rhetoric into furious poetry.”
On Metacritic the Los Angels Times’ Kenneth Duran gave it a 100% rating. “From first to last, “Testament of Youth” sweeps you away,” praised the paper. “Unapologetically emotional and impeccably made in the classic manner, it tells the kind of potent, many-sided story whose unforeseen complexities can come only courtesy of a life that lived them all.”
One of Vera’s goals in writing “Testament of Youth” was to show, “without any polite disguise, the agony of war to the individual, and the destructiveness to the human race.”
A committed pacifist, when the Second World War broke out, she was accused of collaborating with the Nazis because of her anti-war stance. Ironically, it was later discovered, she was included in the Nazi “black book”, which detailed notable people to be arrested in the event of a successful invasion of Britain.
Vera’s ardent political activism had a major impact on her daughter, who in 2003, led the opposition in the UK’s House of Lords to the invasion of Iraq.