By Liz Lopez
I know when I hear the term “coming –of – age” applied to a film’s story -line I can be a bit leery of how that script will unfold, especially when it is a comedy. I know it can turn out to be a disappointing time in the theater. This is not the case for the historical feature film, Testament of Youth, as there is so much more to it than coming –of – age. In fact, it is based on a memoir by Vera Brittain, an aspiring writer who works hard to convince her father of her goal to attend the University of Oxford instead of being someone’s spouse as was expected in the early 1900s.
When she reaches her goal to sit for exams and later is accepted to the school, World War I breaks out and her life changes forever. Brittain’s story conveyed through the script adapted by Juliette Towhidi (Calendar Girls) and brought to life by actress Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, Seventh Son, A Royal Affair) is very impressive. The impact is such that it evokes varied emotions during the film and even the day after viewing it, as it is for me now. It may do so for even longer. It is Vera Brittain who was a powerful woman and lived through some extremely difficult times in the first quarter of the 1900s and Towhidi captures all of the themes brilliantly from all the source material including diaries and correspondence. From scenes of young love to scenes of the tragedy of war, and survival, this film is a must see.
Brittain’s personal story was first published in 1933. Other books followed and it also became a 1979 BBC television series. Even though this is a woman’s journey in pre and post World War I times, this story can still resonate with so many because many more wars have happened to this day and effect the hope, dreams and love of several generations of both military and non- military families.
I cannot begin to try to condense what transpires in this two hour film, but know that if you are a writer or long to write, you will connect with this story. There are several themes or issues that an individual may find to appeal to them from Vera’s story – support of higher education, more equality and stories about women who are determined in the face of so many odds. There is something for those of us who have had siblings or friends that support the desire to achieve dreams and goals, not to mention the loss of those individuals.
Knowing how life is with the challenges, happiness and sadness almost everyone faces at some time or another it will be very difficult not to connect with someone or something in this film. Vera has many losses, but she also has many gains along the way that continued to make her stronger. I found it inspiring.
The ensemble cast with Alicia Vikander, includes Dominic West, Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson, Taron Egerton, Kit Harrington, Colin Morgan, Joanna Scanlan, Hayley Atwell, Jonathan Bailey and Anna Chancellor. All of these actors give excellent and moving performances.
It took several years for this film to be developed and to have a theatrical release, first in 2014 in Great Britain and in limited theaters in the United States. Catch it at the Arbor Cinema at Great Hills in Austin now in time for the July 4th weekend.