Sunday, March 18 , 2018, 10:40 am | Fair 55º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Testament of Youth’

3 Stars — Powerful

The acclaimed autobiographical journey of Vera Brittain and her experience of World War I is documented in her book Testament of Youth. Bringing this story to the big screen after having previously created a TV series, BBC Films chose James Kent to direct and Juliette Towhidi to write the adapted screenplay.

Staying very true to the original book, they only give us a taste of Brittain’s work. Along with many other books, this work eventually became a trilogy, including Testament of Friendship and Testament of Experience. Brittain was writing a fourth book, Testament of Faith, but was unable to finish it before her death.

A remarkable young woman who was tutored at home and passed the entrance exam to study at Somerville College in Oxford, Vera (Alicia Vikander) was the only daughter of a wealthy paper manufacturer, Thomas (Dominic West), and his wife, Edith (Emily Watson).

A quiet and driven person whose beloved brother Edward (Taron Egerton) was her best friend, Vera plans to attend Oxford and become a writer were reinforced when she fell in love with a dashing young Oxford-bound poet named Roland Leighton (Kit Harington). Her brother Edward and good friend Victor Richardson (Colin Morgan) were also enrolled to study with her in the colleges of Oxford University.

But before their first day of college together arrived, World War I began. Lured by both the adventure and idealism of youth, Roland, Edward and Victor all enlisted. Although Vera started attending college at Oxford by herself, she soon left to volunteer to help the injured troops as a nursing assistant.

Clearly, the war changed everything for this group of teenagers. Although Vera’s father tried desperately to keep his son from going to war, Vera pleaded on his behalf to get his father’s permission. Her role in Edward going to war would be something that haunted her and influenced her later opinions and thoughts about war and pacifism.

Although this is a true story and the facts are known, we will not spoil the film for those who aren’t acquainted with Vera’s book or life. However, several moral and social issues permeate the film. Known as one of the most effective pacifists following the war, Vera was nevertheless what is often called a practical pacifist. She had the ability to express her commitment to end war from the perspective of having experienced the depth of its horror. She also understood the violent evil that plagues humanity, especially as seen in World War II with Nazi expansion to other countries and its eventual destruction.

Another moral and social issue Vera fought for was her belief in the equality of women. Fighting to attend college and not permitting herself to be defined by society’s expectation that she only fill the role of a wife and mother, Vera was both a product of her time and a leader in the women’s movement. Both of her beliefs in ending war and in the equality of women were supported by her Christian beliefs, although the film only lightly touches on her faith.

Testament of Youth is a true story of a young woman’s life-changing journey from the loss of innocence to the commitment to end the warring madness and inequalities of our human condition. It is a powerful depiction we commend to all.


» Research into Brittain’s political and ideological beliefs affirm that it was her Christian faith that was formative (click here). Why do you think these filmmakers downplayed the fact that she was a Christian and the role her faith played in shaping her beliefs and causes?

» When Vera and Roland planned to marry on his Christmas break, he died just days before on Dec. 22. Shot by a sniper when he volunteered to repair the barbed wire protecting his men, he continued to demonstrate both his courage and his sense of responsibility. If you had been Vera and lost your fiancé only days before your wedding, how would you have dealt with it? To whom would you have turned for comfort and counsel? How does your faith inform you and help you deal with death?

» Edward’s father tried to keep him from enlisting. However, he finally relented and gave his tear-filled permission. What would you have done if you were he and your son wanted your permission to enlist when your nation goes to war?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >