The Centrepiece Gala at the London Film Festival is a careful, shaded and forthright adaptation of the memoir written by Vera Brittain about her First World War memories; a strong and stunning woman as she showed to the world at the London Premiere of Testament of Youth (watch the trailer).
Vera is rebellious in her ambitions: she wants to be a writer; she can’t deal with the fact her father can afford a piano for her but “there are not enough money” for Oxford; her biggest dream. But we are on the brink of a war and Vera dreams, like that of his brother and their two best friends are destined to change forever.
Testament of Youth is an appalling catalogue of personal loss, a scalding of the soul. It’s a movie of sadness: when we see the three happy boys leaving for school we know the war is near and we start to prepare ourselves to the fact that not all of them will come back again to the house they are leaving.
But Testament of Youth is also a movie of silence: heavy is Roland‘s (in this sequence a marvellous Kit Harington) one when he comes home on leave and we meet him at the beach. He is so confident with his friends behind a brave face mask but he is so inwardly broken by the haphazard brutality of trench life that he can barely look Vera in the eye.
The truth is silence and agony: for Vera there is just loss. “There seemed to be nothing left in the world, for I felt that Roland had taken with him all my future and Edward all my past” wrote Vera in her book.
During the war Vera understand what women need to do to be ad useful as the men are; but she understand much more: she understand she must combat the empty words and the myth of noble death especially after the war. As in Brittain‘s book, also in the screenplay by Juliette Towhidi, it’s clear the powerful message of this memoir: to deny every false meaning attached to battlefield death.
The cast is extraordinary.
Sweden actress Alicia Vikander is almost perfect in the role of the British Vera Brittain. A woman who will give up on her dream; she will lose before the boyfriend, then the best friend and at least the brother. A woman to whom the war will leave a legacy of only ghosts; but especially a woman who will live her long life with the knowledge that she had persuaded her father (a stunning Dominic West) to let Edward (her brother) join up to thank him for persuading their father to let her try the Oxford Admission Exam.
Emily Watson is the perfect portrait of a 10s woman: succubus of the wife role; at the slightest difficulty her balance, made precarious by the war, crumbles and she falls into a dark vortex without end.
Dominic West proves himself as a fair and inclusive father, a man ready to sew the edges of the family after every tragedy. A solid man with strong reasons; but also able to listen to the reasons of his children.
Taron Egerton, as Vera’s sweet brother represents everything is complicity, sweetness and brotherly love.
Kit Harington (Games of Thrones, Pompei) gives an outstanding performance as Vera’s love interest. He has the ability to transmit the atrocities suffered at the front, the fear, the anguish and the pain of an 18-year-old boy who, like everyone, left for the first line with an idea far from what would have been the war there. And the terrifying thing is he manages to do so with the force of a glance or a gesture.
Victor, played by Colin Morgan (Merlin) and Hayley Atwell complete an extraordinary cast that won deservedly the standing ovations at the London Film Festival.
Rob Hardy (The Invisible Woman) photography is just the icing on the cake for one of the best movie of the year.
“If this word should turn out to be a ‘Te moriturum saluto,’ perhaps it will brighten the dark moments a little to think how you have meant to someone more than anything ever has or ever will. What you have striven for will not end in nothing, all that you have done and been will not be wasted, for it will be a part of me as long as I live, and I shall remember, always.”
Release date: USA 2015
UK 16 January 2015