Monday, April 4, 2016

Testament of Youth

This review is Spoiler-free.

Testament of Youth depicts events of the First World War from the perspective of real-life war nurse and writer Vera Brittain (). Before the war began she was the suffragette-type, and determined to make it into Oxford along with her brother Edward () and his friends Victor () and Roland (). But just as the college year begins, war breaks out, and slowly tears Vera's life and dreams to pieces.

Familiar faces that pop up: , , , , and !

This film is a romantic drama through and through. And as such it is not automatically my ideal cup of tea. I mainly watched it just because I liked the cast, and didn't expect to really appreciate the story, or the way it was told. With these lower expectations, I wound up actually pretty impressed. Neither the romance nor the drama was too overt. It was kept reserved for the most part, and was artistically portrayed rather than just being thrown out there obtrusively.

The movie is based on the memoirs of Vera, and I liked how the film seems much influenced by her viewpoint. At times, it's like reading her diary. You can see how she romanticizes things -- particularly her main relationship -- and seeing things through her eyes made me more in sync with her character. Yet because of the unobtrusive nature of the drama, whenever things got too emotionally intense, I didn't feel like my emotions were being coerced and prodded to follow.

You're allowed to enjoy at you own level.

Vera is one of those people who internalize everything, which is a naturally hard character to put on screen properly. But with this film being strictly from her perspective, and with a truly, very good performance from Vikander, she is understood and easy to feel for. The film portrays her as a feminist and a pacifist, and seem to try and stretch it to the extreme at which people are feminists and pacifists today (trying to claim her as their own, if you will) but it doesn't quite stick. Fortunately it's not pushed too far. Her character's journey is kept at the front of the focus and it keeps everything grounded.

Taron Egerton's presence was probably the deciding factor for me to watch this because I enjoy watching him light up the screen so much. Edward is sweet and charming and I liked their cute brother-sister relationship. I ended up having a major soft spot for Victor though, and not just because he was Colin Morgan. And Roland was by no means bad, but I'm going to say something about him that might make you think I think so. He had, what I'll call and "Edward Cullen" syndrome -- because he seems more like fantasy than a real person. And that enhanced movie for me a lot, but it didn't leave me very attached to the character... or the drama surrounding him.

The best dress and the best man.

I don't see many period dramas set during this time, and I really liked seeing the costumes, particularly Vera's and the women's clothes. Like Downton Abbey, but less glamorous and rich. The whole look of the film is kept very consistently refined but soft, like a dream -- or more accurately, a memory -- memory is very important to this film. And it is filmed artistically to be nice to look at, and to give and enhance meaning. Occasionally it veers into a depth that is more confusing than meaningful, or a little too far into sentimentality to be taken fully seriously, but it doesn't its job better than most of its genre that I've witnessed.

Testament of Youth is a lovely, thoughtful and well-made film that succeeds in saying what it wants to say without getting too distracted by the alluring pitfalls of its genre.

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