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British biopic Testament of Youth lacks its heroine’s vibrant spirit

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Mike D’Angelo

Two and a half stars

Testament of Youth Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington, Taron Egerton. Directed by James Kent. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

Adapted from the first volume in a mammoth three-part memoir by Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth focuses on its heroine’s experiences during World War I, when she dropped out of Oxford in order to volunteer as a nurse. Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) plays Vera, who declares her intention never to marry within the film’s first few minutes, after her father (Dominic West) uses the money she needs for her education to buy her a piano. Before long, however, she’s trading ardent poems with Roland Leighton (Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington), a dashing friend of her brother’s who takes her literary aspirations seriously. When war breaks out, and Roland enlists, Vera, too, feels that she must serve her country.

Directed by British TV veteran James Kent, Testament of Youth plays exactly like sober, relentlessly tasteful British television. Vikander has an appealing ferocity as a woman who feels stifled by the restrictions of her era, but her performance is undermined by the movie’s emphasis on romance, a comparatively minor aspect of the book (which covers 25 years rather than just four). And it’s the kind of film in which, when a minor character casually tosses down a newspaper, the shot provides a knowing glimpse of the headline: “Archduke Shot, Austria in Turmoil.” –

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