Tes­ta­ment of Youth

Tes­ta­ment of Youth, drama, rated PG-13, Re­gal DeVar­gas, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPOS - — Jonathan Richards

Tes­ta­ment of Youth be­gins with its hero­ine, Vera Brit­tain (Alicia Vikan­der), swimming (al­most lit­er­ally) against the tide. It is Nov. 11th, 1918, and the ar­mistice end­ing World War I has just been an­nounced. The streets erupt in joy­ful cel­e­bra­tion, and as the crowd surges to­ward her, Vera strug­gles, grim-faced, in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, buf­feted by the ec­static cel­e­brants, un­til she es­capes into the nearly de­serted quiet of a church.

The take­away from this mo­ment is that what­ever oth­ers may have to celebrate, for Vera there is no cause for re­joic­ing. From the still­ness of the church, we flash back four years ear­lier to find out why.

We meet a high-spir­ited coun­try girl, a young fem­i­nist clash­ing with her con­ven­tional par­ents (Emily Wat­son and Do­minic West) over her de­ter­mi­na­tion to go to Ox­ford and be­come a writer, and to re­ject the bondage of mar­riage. Against the odds, she con­vinces her fa­ther to let her sit for the Ox­ford ex­ams, and against even greater odds, she is ac­cepted. But fore­bod­ing news­pa­per head­lines about the as­sas­si­na­tion of an Aus­trian arch­duke warn us that the care­free sum­mer days of youth are com­ing to an end.

When war is de­clared, Vera’s beloved brother Ed­ward (Taron Eger­ton) wants to en­list, ea­ger to taste the glory be­fore it’s all over. Vera in­ter­cedes with their fa­ther for his per­mis­sion. Their best friend Vic­tor Richard­son (Colin Mor­gan) and another Ox­ford friend of Ed­ward’s, Roland Leighton (Kit Har­ing­ton), fol­low suit. “How many gen­er­a­tions get a chance to do some­thing like this?” Roland asks.

By this time Vera has got­ten over her aver­sion to mar­riage, and has fallen in love with Roland. And so she sees the men she loves go off to war. Soon, as the ter­ri­ble re­al­ity of the slaugh­ter sinks in, she leaves univer­sity and joins the nurs­ing corps, first in Eng­land, and then later at the front.

Brit­tain’s war memoir, pub­lished 15 years af­ter the end of the Great War, be­came a clas­sic of anti-war literature. Di­rec­tor James Kent, a vet­eran of Bri­tish TV mak­ing his fea­ture de­but, han­dles the fa­mil­iar ma­te­rial with sen­si­tiv­ity and emo­tional power. There’s very lit­tle that’s ground­break­ing here, but much that is heart­break­ing. You will be re­minded of other war movies like Gone With the Wind, with ea­ger young men rush­ing off to fight with stars in their eyes and re­turn­ing with bul­lets in their chests, leav­ing arms and legs and il­lu­sions be­hind on the bat­tle­field, if they re­turn at all. You’ll re­mem­ber that Civil War epic again when Kent’s cam­era pulls up and away from a field hos­pi­tal to give a long over­head shot of the wounded, dy­ing, and dead laid out on lit­ters in a muddy field.

Vikan­der, a new star who is sud­denly ev­ery­where, dom­i­nates the movie, and with her Au­drey Hep­burn-like beauty she makes us feel ev­ery mo­ment of the deep­en­ing hor­rors of war.

Over there: Alicia Vikan­der and Kit Har­ing­ton

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