Adaptation of Vera Brittian’s WWI memoir which begins during the pre-war years recounting Vera’s life with her family, her brother Edward and his close friends Victor and Roland, with whom Vera falls in love with, and shows their innocence of youth full of prospects and expectations.
Sadly their joy of life is interrupted by the oncoming war and the boys leave for the front. Feeling that she must contribute in some way Vera abandons her studies at Oxford and decides to volunteer as a nurse and it is through her work that she experiences the horrors of war and personal loss and then later became a writer, feminist and pacifist.
The film is directed by James Kent (The Thirteenth Tale, The White Queen), screenplay co-written by Juliette Towhidi, produced by David Heyman (Gravity, the Harry Potter movies) and Rosie Alison (Paddington, The Thirteenth Tale) for Heyday Films.
On 5th January, at a very cold London’s Leicester Square, celebrated the premiere of the film and the cast including Alicia Vikander (Vera Brittan), Kit Harrington (Roland Leighton, Vera’s fiancé), Taron Egerton (Edward Brittain, Vera’s brother), Colin Morgan (Victor Richardson, Edward’s close friend), were a few of the cast members that took to the red carpet alongside the director James Kent.
We had the privilege of catching a few quick words with Alicia, Colin and James:
How was it on set with the boys, did you feel like you became a little team? Did they look after you? Did you become friends?
Definitely. I mean Kit I knew since earlier because we had done a film before. We didn’t really have any scenes together but yeah we became friends. And the other boys, apart from being incredible actors they are some of the most humble young men I’ve met. So it was very easy, which was thankful because we had very little time to shoot this film. It was quit intense. Six day weeks and seven weeks I think it was.
Did you have a lot of time to prepare for your role?
You never really have enough time for most films, but James was the greatest support and he was so well prepared. And I think the finance kind of came through just a week before we started the shoot. But that’s also the love of film making, that thing of just having to give it all and get into it.
Did find it challenging playing a real person?
Daunting. Yes! Definitely. I mean, not only to make justice, but of course to all the people that read her words and memoirs, but also to her actual family, people who knew her, people who are still alive.
Do you have a particular favorite line from the movie that best represents her?
I’ve had so many different lines in my head since I shot that film but I really loved the scene, which doesn’t have many lines but in the film where she actually says goodbye to the dying German soldier. That was one of my favorite scenes.
Tell us about the film and how was it like working with the cast.
It’s brilliant. It’s an emotional and truthful and heartfelt account of what happened and to be a part of that, to represent, to have that duty to those people is a privilege and it’s an honor as an actor. You’re studying people’s lives, you’re reading their words, you’re speaking their words and you’re essentially representing them. I think that’s what a lot of us will say, we did feel a duty, we had to honor them.
As it was a strong topic, how was the mood on set? Was it different to other things you’ve worked on?
I think again in the tone of being documented and the testament of the time, there was a sense of us all of being on the same page banding together. A lot of us, Kit, Taron and myself have all read the letters that the guys had written amongst each and so it was important for us to be on the same page in terms of that and the relationships, but it never felt, it didn’t feel heavy because at the end of the day they’re young people of the time and they very much have the spirit of young people now. Well, obviously there are massive differences between what the youth have done now and what they had then, so that was an eye opener for us.
We see you’ve got some exciting things coming up, are you looking forward to them?
Yeah. I was in the midst of filming Humans which is an AMC/Channel 4 drama. I was filming all day today. And then Legends coming out later on in the year with Tom Hardy; really looking forward to seeing how they all turn out. It’s all going well so far.
Do you have a particular favorite line from the movie that you can remember?
The one that always comes through to me is the one that Vera says herself, “Our youth has been stolen from us.” And I think that’s massive. That sums it up perfectly.
Director, James Kent
How was this film for you compared to other things you’ve done?
This is the best experience I’ve ever had because it was such a meaningful story, such a fantastic profound story about a young girl who is an inspiration. I mean she struggles to get to University, she gets to university then damn, the war breaks out. She loses people she loves and yet somehow she comes out of the film stronger and wiser than she began, and I think that’s a lesson. Life will have terrible obstacles for all of us, we will lose, we will grieve, we will recover and we will learn compassion and understanding as a result of that experience.
How do you think Alicia conveyed that?
Well Alicia’s amazing, because she’s only 26 and yet somehow she captures that. And I think she’s just older than her years, you know. I think maybe because she went to ballet school at 9, Swedish Royal Ballet. She’s lived it, it’s tough in those ballet schools and you have to be quiet independent and I think she’s done that, she’s had that experience and as a result she has understood a lot of Vera Brittain because in a way Vera Brittain is older than her years. If you read her journal of the time she’s and older woman than 17, and so I think Alicia is true about that.
How many months or years of research went into making this film?
Well it took them five years to get the script made, and that’s because these films are so hard to make. They’re wonderful, meaningful stories, but there’s still a struggle financing them. I’m a first time director for example, and so I’m not a name. I will be next time when this is a huge success and everybody goes to see it and I get and Oscar. I’m only joking!
Do you have a favorite line from the movie that best represents the story?
I think my favorite line is, “Women send our men to war.” She’s saying we have a responsibility as women to stand up for what we believe in. We’re not passive observers of this conflict. We have voices that should be heard. That was then, now you really have voices that can be heard. You can be out there marching, persuading your sons, your brothers, your husbands not to sign up necessarily, think about what they’re doing and campaign against conflict. Everybody has a duty to do that. That’s my favorite line.
Testament of Youth was released in the UK on January 16th, 2015.