The glittering venue of Leeds Town Hall was all a-buzz on the evening of the 5th of November for the screening of the film adaptation of Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth which opened the 28th Leeds International Film Festival.
This piece of cinema is masterfully and beautifully filmed. Picturesque Yorkshire locations take centre stage as the feature-length flick was predominantly filmed in the region; with Leeds Central Library and Leeds Art Gallery also making an appearance. Award-winning television director James Kent, during his on-stage introduction, made clear that he enjoyed working in his home county, stating that ‘Yorkshire really is God’s own country’ and that the wonderful locations it offers ‘made his job easier’. Produced by BBC Films and Heyday Films, the film is also backed by Screen Yorkshire.
A cracking cast was assembled by Lucy Bevan. The whole ensemble is faultless. There is no weak link in the acting; all performances were equally strong. It boasts famous faces such as Dominic West, Emily Watson and Miranda Richardson as well as great fresh talent. Swedish-born Alicia Vikander’s (known for Anna Karenina and A Royal Affair) portrayal of our national treasure and best-selling writer Vera Brittain, who was deemed ‘the voice of a generation’, is natural and skilfully understated. The plot draws from Brittain’s memoir and follows her striving to gain a place at Oxford, her relationship with Roland Leighton, her role as a nurse and her attempt to cope with the loss she experienced during the war. Brittain’s Testament of Youth is a chunky book but key passages have been successfully selected to achieve a coherent and captivating story, despite the fact that it was not possible to transfer every page to the film. Being familiar with Brittain’s work having studied it back in my school days, I was eager to see this production. It is even better than I expected and brought back the emotion I experienced when I first read her work.
The film portrays the raw and genuinely heart-wrenching quality of Brittain’s memoirs and gives a true and authentic representation of the First World War in how it changed, and ended, people’s lives. With a convincing script it doesn’t overdramatise or sentimentalise and there is a tender and touching treatment of the events. Unashamedly, along with other members of the audience, I shed a tear.
In this centenary year of the First World War, this superb film reminds us of the universal and timeless effects of war at the home front as well as at the battlefield. This pre-release screening was well-received by an understandably watery-eyed and applauding audience. Kent’s Testament of Youth will be released in cinemas in January and comes highly recommended.