Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
Published January 11th 2015
Merlin and Game of Thrones actors star in Testament of Youth
New film Testament of Youth is as much an advert for beautiful British landscapes as it is for rising hot acting talent.
Amid the dreamy, artistic camerawork of shimmering sunrises across Britain's green and pleasant lands are an equally beautiful cast including Kit Harington (looking far more conservative than Jon Snow in Game of Thrones),Colin Morgan (Merlin in the BBC series) and woman of the moment Alicia Vikander. They are so fresh and young that they even make Dominic West look old and staid.
Testament of Youth is a British film featuring a host of hot new talent
Yet this scenic movie also has an important point to make. An important voice to hear - the voice of inspirational young woman Vera Brittain, on which Testament of Youth is based.
This film is the real-life story of Vera's experiences before and during the First World War, which led to her becoming one of the UK's leading pacifists and feminists of the 20th Century.
It stars stunning 26-year-old Swedish actress Alicia Vikander in the lead role as Vera. Her clipped English accent belies her Swedish roots and she shines on screen. This is a face that audiences will get to know well, especially as she is set to star in eight films this year alone, following on from successes in A Royal Affair and Joe Wright's Anna Karenina.
Kit Harington (Jon Snow in Game of Thrones) takes on a more romantic role in Testament of Youth
The coming of age epic is an atmospheric, emotional journey into the hopelessness of World War One. What's refreshing is that unlike many other productions surrounding the 100 year anniversary of the Great War, this film is through the eyes of a young woman, rather than a soldier, who is left behind to cope with the devastating aftermath.
Starting off in the sunshine days ahead of the First World War, we see intelligent Vera frustrated at her womanly lot in pre-war England, desperate to go to Oxford University alongside the three men in her life - her brother Edward Brittain (Taron Egerton), lover Roland Leighton (Kit Harington) and friend Victor Richardson (Colin Morgan).
British heartthrobs Harington and Morgan take this opportunity to branch out into very different roles than their usual TV shows require. Their performances are both compelling and convincing, showing their talents go beyond the limited realms of Game of Thrones and Merlin.
An attractive young cast in Testament of Youth includes Alicia Vikander, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan and Kit Harington.
Based on Vera's own memoirs, the film is unrelenting in its misery and there's no happy Hollywood ending for our heroine. However, Vera's life was a fascinating, remarkable one and if she wasn't fighting for her right to a university education, she was nursing near the frontlines in the hospital camp of Étaples in France.
This is a slow burner with an emphasis on the emotional trauma on a generation rather than visible horror of war, but it will pull at the heartstrings, particularly when you see Vera at her most desperate. At one point, she frantically searches piles of dead bodies at a war hospital in the hope of finding her brother in a horrifically realistic recreation of the frontlines.
However, the story builds up gradually, and at times, the tempo is a little slow and drawn out - but it can be forgiven when the scenes are so artistically shot in such beautiful locations.
BBC Films and Heyday Films teamed up to make this drama and it has all the tell-tale signs of a BBC period drama at its best.
Alicia Vikander shines on screen as Vera Brittain
Scenes like the atmospheric opening sequence when Vera is among Armistice Day crowds celebrating in London and she dips into a church to contain her emotions. This was actually Greenwich Naval College replicating the streets of Whitehall and the church is St Bartholomew-the-Great in Smithfield.
For those interested in finding these beauty spots, principal filming locations were Yorkshire, Oxford and London.
The picturesque lake that begins and ends the film was filmed at Darley Dale in Derbyshire, while the North Yorkshire moors, the Yorkshire coastline and Welbeck Estate, south of Sheffield, were used for the Vera and Roland's family homes.
Colin Morgan with Alicia Vikander in Testament of Youth
Welbeck Abbey and its sunken gardens also feature heavily in some of the early romantic scenes.
Recreating the Edwardian era in modern Britain was not easy and it was Bradford, Sheffield and York that replicated old fashioned London streets, while Keighley and Worth Valley heritage railway station was used to replicate a war-time Charing Cross Station.
These exquisite settings help leave a lasting image for a film that is at times hard to watch, but so it should be as the First World War was a harrowing, emotional, difficult piece of history.
Kit Harington takes on a very different role from Game of Thrones in Testament of Youth
Putting aside the way this movie is beautifully filmed and the talented up and coming cast, this is a real-life feminist's story that needs to be told and introduced to a new generation of women in particular.
And while Testament of Youth is a better than average, beautifully shot, well acted melodrama, it's also a film that should be watched as a testament to the lives that were lost in the First World War and the fighting spirit of a young woman who lost everyone close to her heart.
Testament of Youth
Released in UK - January 16
Certification : 12A
Kit Harington - Roland Leighton
Hayley Atwell - Hope
Dominic West - Mr. Brittain
Alicia Vikander - Vera Brittain
Miranda Richardson - Miss Lorimer
Taron Egerton - Edward Brittain
Emily Watson - Mrs. Brittain
Colin Morgan - Victor Richardson
Anna Chancellor - Mrs. Leighton
Jonathan Bailey - Geoffrey Thurlow
Charlotte Hope - Betty
Joanna Scanlan - Aunt Belle