“Testament of Youth,” written by Juliette Towhidi and based on Vera Brittain’s 1933 World War I memoir, has the stately picturesqueness of old-fashioned “quality” British cinema. At its center, though, is a performance that cuts right through the decorum.
As Vera, the rebellious, moneyed young woman whose dream of graduating from Oxford is deferred when the war breaks out, Alicia Vikander is such a ferociously intuitive performer that you can’t take your eyes off her. The director, James Kent, seems to understand this: He rarely keeps his cameras away from her. Vikander, who was last seen as the bot in “Ex Machina,” is Swedish, but you’d never know it from this performance. (Her pitch-perfect accent is only the beginning.)
As many of the people who matter most in Vera’s life are consumed by the war, the gravity of her despair becomes palpable. The excellent supporting cast – including Taron Egerton as Vera’s brother, Edward, and Kit Harington as her fiancé, Roland – provide Vikander with ample backup. Grade: B+ (Rated PG-13 for thematic material including war-related images.)