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This is a very, very late review, I admit. When this movie was in cinemas for its very brief run alongside another film, I had to make a choice as to which film I would be more sorry to miss. I went with the other movie and here we are, months later with a review after having seen the movie on DVD. Good to get that cleared up.
Testament of Youth, based on the memoir of the same name, tells the story of Vera Brittain. Vera was a young woman when the First World War broke out in 1914 and through the war encountered personal tragedy unfathomable today.No man or woman is still alive who could have had the same experiences as Vera Brittain. The First World War is almost entirely beyond the stretch of human memory. As the years pass, it becomes harder and harder to capture the idea that almost an entire generation of men were killed over the course of four years.
From All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) to Steven Spielberg’s War Horse (2011), filmmakers have been dramatising this conflict. Most often the focus has been on the front line. Testament of Youth differs in that the war is shown from the perspective of a woman. The losses she suffers are beyond her reach. When she tries to do her part to save herself from suffering further, the war only doubles it again.
The way this movie is presented is fascinating. There is no point in this movie where I felt I wasn’t viewing it through the eyes of Vera. Sequences where we are shown the front line almost feel poetic. The sullen faces of young soldiers break the fourth wall and deep into the soul of the viewer. That viewer being you and the protagonist.
A trick employed to exaggerate this sense of subjectivity is something I’ve seen before in a few movies, but is used to great effect here. I call them “flash flashbacks”. When Vera feels a particular way, we see or hear a piece of her past that relates to the situation and makes us feel what she’s feeling even stronger. The reason it works so well is that we associate emotions with memories in a similar way.
Editing is a part of filmmaking I don’t often hear sufficient praise being allocated to. Stanley Kubrick himself said that the only part of cinema that makes it unique as an artform is the editing process. Luckily I found this movie’s editing inspiringly good.
Not only that, but the script which allowed for less words and more visuals and excellent direction to deliver emotional punch was very praiseworthy. The acting, too is something to behold, particularly from leading lady Kit Harrington.
I have seen few movies that capture the pain of losing those you love through a war so wonderfully. And what’s even more amazing, not one bullet is fired on-screen.
Recommended Scenario: When you are in the mood for an exceptionally moving drama.
If what I have written tells you that you would like this film, you can book tickets to see it at your local Cineworld here.
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