Biographical dramas are becoming more common these days, maybe because we are growing nostalgic to better times in the past? Nonetheless, I am always intrigued.
Enough intrigue to choose Testament of Youth (2014) out of Netflix’s suggestions.
But before I get into the movie, can I just say I did not expect that cast. Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service), Colin Morgan (Merlin), and Kit Harington (Game of Thrones) I would say are pretty successful actors and an ensemble cast. It’s not like the ensemble cast of Expendables or Valentine’s Day, but the movie was beautifully executed. And it did not depend on the fame of the cast to market the movie. Heck, I did not even know they would be in this movie.
I didn’t bother to watch the trailer before getting into the movie. I just knew I will sit through it anyway.
But I warn you, if you think this is a romantic story, you are mistaken. It’s a story about the true cost of war, and its aftermath beyond the battlefield.
We are taken back to Armistice Day in 1918 where Vera Brittain (Vikander) tries to get out of a celebrating crowd and calms herself down in a nearby church. Why wouldn’t she be rejoicing knowing the war is over? She sees a painting of people dying in the sea, and we are taken further back into a flashback four years prior.
Edward (Egerton) is Vera’s brother, and Victor (Morgan) is their friend. Back in the sibling’s home, and after Vera throws a fit, we meet Roland (Harington). And to be honest, Harington looks a lot different (younger perhaps) without the beard and the stress of being Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.
Everything begins all happy and everyone’s together, which scares me because it’s like a quiet warning of bad things to come. Much like how the very first episode of Game of Thrones is where we see the Starks together and nothing hurts. And it just went downhill from there.
Anyway, I don’t want to get ahead. I mean obviously, through history we just know what happens four years before 1918. Nonetheless, the story does try to take your mind off it.
The budding romance between Vera and Roland, and the comedic touch in their dates surely pinched my heart a little. They just look so happy and infatuated. This sucks.
Not the movie, of course, but what’s to come.
Kit Harington assuring Vera, “There will be months of training, at which point it will all be over. Me and Ted will be coming to Oxford with you in the new year,” just reminded me of Ned Stark telling Jon Snow “Next time I see you, I’ll tell you all about your mother.” It’s painful because they leave you hopeful and optimistic before your heart’s crushed. But you watch until the end either way, because you want to be there for them through the pain.
And holy damn there’s so much pain. It’s like a roller coaster ride where it takes you up high with hope and promises of marriage, and down with a phone call and unsent letters and poems. Then a bit up again as Vera reunites with a friend who has dodged death, but overnight he passes away, with no good-byes. Also, there’s her brother who almost dies in France, but she helps heal him back to life.
Alicia Vikander’s portrayal of Vera Brittain is strong and moving that you feel you’re with her when she goes through every single loss in her life, just as each person is taken away by War and Death. It even more heartbreaking knowing they were only in their early twenties, and they had their lives ahead of them, gone the instant war broke out. It’s a given for the men who fought in the war, but everyone forgets the people left behind. And Vera’s story provides the perspective that their lives are forever changed, more than the lost ones, because they’re scarred.
It’s a tragic ending, as expected of war-related stories. There isn’t a reconciliation, just the acceptance of loss and learning to live with it.