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Testament of Youth (AF)


Stars: Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan, Emily Watson, Dominic West, Miranda Richardson, Joanna Scanlan, Hayley Atwell, Jonathan Bailey, Henry Garrett, Alexandra Roach, Nicholas Le Provost, Anna Chancellor

Director: James Kent

I admit it. I haven’t read proto-feminist Vera Brittain’s much-lauded memoir on which this is based.

That said, I’m reviewing the film, not the book.

I’ve little doubt that Brittain’s story of her privileged life in Britain prior to WW1 and her subsequent horrifying experiences as a volunteer nursing wounded British and German soldiers is powerful and emotionally vital.

Her memoir was previously transformed into a 1979 BBC TV serial.

Here the combination of a wishy-washy screenplay (Juliette Towhidi) and equally bland direction (James Kent, making the transition from the small screen to the cinema) has resulted in a movie that would be perfectly at home as a three-episode BBC Sunday serial. Or, better still, given its lush locations and period costumes, an ideal offering on American TV”s ‘Masterpiece Theater’.

It goes almost without saying that BBC television licence and Lottery money helped drag the show into existence.

It’s a British-funded film (Testament of Youth was produced by Midas-touched Harry Potter producer David Heyman)) so naturally the eminently English title character is played here by a Swedish actress.

To give her due, Alicia Vikander’s English accent is creditable almost all the time and she doesn’t embarrass herself too often, as her character finds love and companionship in the English countryside prior to the war, and the suffers searing loss while nursing behind the lines in Europe.

Serendipitously Brits Kit Warrington, as Vera/Vikander’s fiancé, Taron Egerton as her brother, and Dominic West and Emily Watson, playing her parents, have their English accents down pat and deliver their largely colourless characterisations as well as script and direction will allow.

The searing scenes of wartime suffering, notably a gut-wrenching high shot of legions of wounded men lying on the ground in the open, certainly hit hard. And Kent never shrinks from showing the horror of all too credible wounds and plentiful blood.

Unfortunately the relatively deep sequences are soon diluted by the overlong (the film could lose at lease 10 minutes of lushly photographed English exteriors without anyone feeling robbed) and underpowered drama which reduces a potentially potent story to the bland leading the bland.

Alan Frank

UK 2014. UK Distributor: Lionsgate. Colour by Cinelab.
129 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 17 Jan 2015