By Megan Bianco
If there’s one film actor who’s going to break through in Hollywood the same way Edward Norton did in 1996 or Jessica Chastain in 2011, it’s Swedish export Alicia Vikander.
After a stunning debut in “A Royal Affair“ (2012), Vikander was sure to be the next big thing until disappointments “The Fifth Estate“ and “Anna Karenina“ held her back for a year in 2013. But 2015 is already doing her wonders with last April’s sci-fi hit “Ex Machina“ and now the British period piece “Testament of Youth“ adapted by James Kent and Juliette Towhidi from political activist Vera Brittain’s memoir.
A month ago audiences received a feminist themed romance-drama in “Far from the Madding Crowd“ with Carey Mulligan, and similarly here, Vikander’s portrayal of Brittain is a young woman more interested in studying at university than finding a fiance. But just as she’s accepted into school, she finds herself suddenly in love with an aspiring poet named Roland Leighton (Kit Harington). Vera and Roland quickly begin a long distance courtship through letters and holiday visits. But things don’t go according to plan when World War I hits and Roland, along with Vera’s brother Edward (Taron Egerton), sign up for military service. Vera herself then starts to consider the option of giving up studying to volunteer at the military hospitals. Dominic West and Emily Watson play Vera’s old-fashioned parents, Colin Morgan is a possible suitor for Vera and Miranda Richardson co-stars as her headmistress.
“Testament of Youth“ is TV director Kent’s first feature film, but you wouldn’t know that based on how well the narrative and performances go through the two-hour runtime, and screenwriter Towhidi returns to familiar territory with a feminist period piece after 2006’s “Calendar Girls.” The film is both emotionally and aesthetically beautiful, with award-worthy costume and set designs. Vikander’s lead performance is wonderfully crafted as the patriot-turned-pacifist who experiences her first love and dose of reality outside of books. You feel for Vera and the loss she suffers and fights for, but also don’t pity her as she remains strong through her vulnerability.
Another thing to note of Vikander is her near perfect attempts at accents, here as a Brit, and in “Ex Machina“ as an American. Fortunately for her, she won’t have the same problem Marion Cotillard or Michael Fassbender have of being pigeonholed into her natural accent in U.S. films.
“Testament of Youth,” as well as “Madding Crowd“ and “Love & Mercy,” show summer ’15 is not only for sci-fi nerds, but also period-piece geeks.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.