Testament of Youth is based upon the memoir of the same name by Vera Brittain. The memoir was a bestseller on publication, heralded as the voice of a generation and has become the classic testimony of WW1 from a woman’s point of view. Having read this as part of my English A Level I was already familiar with the autobiographical story so was very interested in seeing the Film adaptation.
The story begins before the break out of war, where we are introduced to Vera (Alicia Vikander), her parents, her brother Edward, and Edward’s friends from school: Roland (Kit Harington – Jon Snow for any Game of Thrones fans!) and Victor (Colin Morgan – aka Merlin from the BBC show of the same name). The lads are close to the end of school and preparing for university, Vera longs to be a writer and is desperate to go to Oxford with her brother, but her parents have forbidden her as that was not the expectations of a young girl at that time. George eventually persuades their father to let Vera sit the entrance exam, which she does and by luck she gets in.
However in the time before they are due to leave, War breaks out and all three boys (because at 18 that is what they were) have signed up. Vera is left to go to Oxford on her own and though she has spent months longing to be there, feels that it is wrong to be studying when the country, and most importantly her brother and friends, are at war. Against the wishes of her teacher she volunteers as a nurse and we are shown how Vera copes when the reality of war is brought into her life. Vera, having come from a privileged up-bringing, finds that the other nurses are rude and unwilling to teach her, thinking that she won’t last long, but Vera fights back and tackles any task they give her.
Throughout this time she exchanges letters with Edward who is still training in England, and Roland, already out on the front line, who she has started a relationship with. We see joy when they are home on leave and the pain when they must say goodbye again. After Edward is sent off to France Vera feels she must be closer to him somehow and so heads to France herself to be a nurse behind the front line. Here the conditions are a lot worse, there is mud everywhere and one scene shows rows and rows of injured soldiers lying in the mud just waiting to be treated. Every time a new batch of soldiers arrives Vera scans them for any one she may know, both in fear and in hope, for she is desperate to be reunited with her loved ones.
It is hard to say any more of the story without giving away too much, but if you go and see it then you will need a box of tissues handy…
What I will add though is that the film is a beautiful adaptation of what is a very powerful and moving memoir. All of the actors involved give an incredible and moving performance, in particular Alicia as Vera who in my opinion gives an outstanding portrayal of Vera. The struggles that the real Vera went through are both courageous and heart-breaking, and though it is a War film there are no bloody action scenes but instead it is a close look at the home front and what the women went through whilst their men were fighting.
The summer of last year mark the 100th anniversary of WW1, and it is easy to forget what happened as our generation is so distanced from it, but films and memoirs like Testament of Youth are ways of reminding people and most importantly remembering the many who fell fighting for our country. There are many moments in the film where the reality of just how many young men died during this war alone. One scene shows Vera scanning through pages and pages of a newspaper stating all those who had fallen (pictured above), and this was just in the early stages of the war.
Vera’s generation were labelled ‘the lost generation’ and by writing her memoir Vera brings back to life all those who fought and died for our country. The fact that the memoir became a bestseller and is now studied by the generations after her proves that Vera’s aim for these men to be remembered has succeeded.
I shall leave you with this perfect and poignant end quote of the film, Vera’s own words from her memoir:
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.