TESTAMENT OF YOUTH is based on the autobiography of a woman who lost her brother, her fiancé and two close friends in World War One. It's a strong anti-war drama with a great performance from Swedish actress, Alicia Vikander.
But its stiff and proper British style plus its somber tone and tragic story make it tough to watch.
Alicia Vikander (also the star of EX MACHINA) is Vera Britain, a budding young feminist and Oxford student who early on has no understanding of the horror of war. In fact, when World War One breaks out, she sympathizes with her brother, Edward, who wants to become a soldier.
Edward: Father was his usual calm self. He said he'd rather put a gun to his head than let me go.
Vera: It's all happening so fast.
Edward: There are boys from the town who've signed up already. How would it look if I'm not among them?
Vera: I'll talk to him…calmly. I promise.
Vera (to her father): All the papers are saying it will be short and fast.
Father: Well, I can assure you that it's never short and it's never fast.
Truer words were never spoken, but all her young friends, including the man she loves, think otherwise.
Vera: Roland, you signed up?
Roland: I have to go. How many generations get the chance to be involved in something like this?
The real answer to that question, unfortunately, is every single generation.
Idealist that she is, Vera decides to leave college and become an army nurse.
Mother: France? That's the front; it's so dangerous.
Vera: I'll be behind the lines. As close to Edward as I can get. I need to be there.
Head Nurse (to a group of young nurses including Vera): You're not angels of mercy swooping down to mop the brows of grateful men….especially those who have come down from the ivory towers.
There are no battle scenes in TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, but we are shown plenty of badly wounded young men so that we clearly see why Vera comes to understand the horror and futility of armed conflict.
Truly, her extraordinary performance is the best reason to see this gloomy film.
Vera (giving a speech after the war): We send our men to war because we think it's the right thing, the honorable thing. No more of it!