Film review: Alicia Vikander lifts Testament of Youth beyond the normal realms of costume drama

06:58 15 January 2015

Testament of Youth

Testament of Youth

Archant

Our film critic Michael Joyce was expecting a mid-standard period production, but James Kent’s latest offering proved a more affecting affair.

Vera Brittain’s First World War memoir was published in 1933 and may well have established many of the cliches we associate with dramas about the period.

This film adaptation runs through such tried and tested favourites of the British costume drama as callow youths looking wistfully away from the public school playing fields on the eve of WW1; a headstrong young lady determined to defy the limits convention has placed upon her; the dreaming spires of Oxford; prestigious name actors in small cameo roles (Miranda Richardson, Emily Watson); a small notice in the newspaper about a duke being shot in Sarajevo.

But it has a strange duality: it is every bit as stiff and drama school formal as these occasions tend to be, while at the same time pulsing with a real and desperate vibrancy. These characters don’t feel like marionettes; it’s as if the blue fairy had descended upon a first season episode of Downton Abbey and turned the cast into real people.

I was settling in to watch the standard British costume drama – had my dutiful, respectful three star review half written in my head – and was confronted by a film with real energy and emotion. The film uses the now standard procedures for making historical dramas seem relevant, which is to shoot it as if they’re in denial about it being a period drama.

It uses lots of close ups and keeps the camera moving as much as possible; anything to distinguish it from a Merchant Ivory picture.

Alicia Vikander is phenomenally good as Brittain, though it may be more to the point to just say she is phenomenally good full stop. She is frighteningly controlled and precise, but without being mechanical; the emotions flow out of her. The Swedish actress should go on to be a star and a half.

She shines in a strong group. Most of the young male cast are basically chinless wonders but tremendously affecting chinless wonders.

Knowing that in a parallel history they would have been flouncing around in jaunty adaptations of Noel Coward plays makes watching them being churned up and destroyed by the trenches terribly poignant.

For a review of American Sniper and the re-release of the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, visit halfmanhalfcritic.weebly.com

Latest Hampstead & Highgate Stories

07:00

Head coach Peter Breen says there is a growing feeling at Hampstead that the club can win the league and secure promotion after Saturday’s results took them to the top of the table.

Yesterday, 17:58

You’ve agonised over your grapes, studied the markets and purchased your favourites fine wines – so why hide them away in the basement? A new wave of homeowners in Hampstead, Primrose Hill and St John’s Wood clearly agree and are embracing the trend for glass wine cellars.

Yesterday, 17:09

The solicitor, who features in the film Denial, says there is “reams and reams” of far-right material online, and search engines should take a stand

Yesterday, 17:00

Former child prodigy Ishbel McWhirter whose 90th birthday exhibition opens at Burgh House looks back on her career

Yesterday, 16:43

Basement, or ‘lower ground floor’ flats currently cost a third less than properties on higher floors in such central north London areas as St John’s Wood, Little Venice and Marylebone.

Yesterday, 16:00

It was another majestic display from Tottenham against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday as they secured a sixth consecutive Premier League victory – and right at the heart of it was Mousa Dembele.

Yesterday, 15:19

Former children’s laureate and author Michael Rosen has condemned Haringey Council’s plans to move thousands of council houses into a private company as “social and ethnic cleansing”.

Yesterday, 15:04

Campaigners against funding cuts to schools in Haringey have called on parents to turn the tide.

Most read Hampstead & Highgate etcetera

HOT JOBS

Show Job Lists

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Hampstead & Highgate Express
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now