Strong Female Characters

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Testament of Youth
RPL Film Theatre
August 20-23
3 out of 5

Star-crossed lovers separated by battle and social status has been a staple of war movies since the beginning. Testament of Youth may seem an old-fashioned compendium of war clichés but there’s a good reason for that: the film is based on one of the first WWI memoirs — Vera Brittain’s — and has served as the blueprint for hundreds of books and movies.

Vera (the luminous Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina) is a willful young woman hell-bent on going to Oxford like her brother. Her mindset changes as Britain enters in World War I and she falls in love with Roland (Kit Harrington, Game of Thrones), a would-be writer who enlists early on.

Concerned for the safety of her friends and brother, Vera becomes a nurse, a position that places her front row to the horrors of war.

As meaty as the context is, Testament of Youth feels slight. The need to cover large amounts of text in a few minutes conspires against granting depth to the relationships, particularly Vera and Roland’s. While Vikander is great, Kit Harrington seems stuck playing variations of the perpetually mopey Jon Snow, only this time on the trenches of WWI. The difference between one actor and the other portraying inured souls is vast.

The movie goes on long after cataclysmic events reshape Vera’s perception of the world. Yet Alicia Vikander is so eminently watchable (let alone gorgeous), boredom never settles in.

There’s also something to be said about a film with a female protagonist with agency who chooses education over a man. It’s distressing how rare this dramatic choice is in cinema.

2015-08-20

One thought on “Strong Female Characters”

  1. If memory serves, Vera Brittain’s memoir was rather late; Robert Graves’s “Goodbye to All That” came out in 1929.

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