Saturday, 17 January 2015

REVIEW - TESTAMENT OF YOUTH (JAMES KENT)


A long way removed from the dispassionate depiction of life during wartime that she envisages for herself, Vera Brittain's experience of WWI is harrowing and emotional. It's an experience from which she learns a great deal, but not without the clear admission that the price she pays for such knowledge is certainly not worth it. Witnessing her pain, that which is personal to her and that which she alleviates others from, is to witness a nation's pain, and so many more nations' too. Testament of Youth is a straightforward film with crucial sources of inspiration that elevate it above the conventions it casually adheres to. Mainly, Brittain's account is dramatically compelling in a very natural sense, since she possesses such qualities that make her an ideal conduit for our own appreciation of what she's going through, and since the events that shape her life during this period are so unshakeable. Through poetic recollections and a near-surfeit of tears, Testament of Youth communicates the immense personal devastation engendered by a war here presented as almost non-political. In stripping back its universality and emphasising its intimacy, James Kent ironically makes this war seem like the grand, sweeping atrocity it must have been. The result is a film so extraordinarily moving that you begin to wish it would only stop being so fucking sad. One relates most keenly to Brittain, but remembers most keenly the men she loses, and their tragic tales. Its richest moments are those, however, when it displays social, cerebral intellect, jettisoning the emotional theatrics for a time; most satisfying is Kent's subtle understanding of Brittain's place as a product of her past but as a figure of the future, and the implications of such a status in even the most throwaway of lines. Although this period piece is handsomely designed, its most valuable components are its actors - Taron Egerton, indelible as Brittain's brother, Miranda Richardson, vivid and perceptive in a small role, and Alicia Vikander as Brittain herself, bold, dignified and thoroughly riveting.